Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict drew a three-game suspension from the NFL as a last straw of sorts for his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the AFC Wild Card playoffs, but his defensive coordinator believes the perception Burfict has drawn is unjustified.
Paul Guenther, Cincinnati’s DC since 2014, said he believes Burfict has an unwarranted reputation as a dirty player, which was put in the spotlight by his hit on Brown, per a Sunday report by Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"I think it’s awful," Guenther said. "The way he’s being perceived right now is terrible. I feel terrible for the kid. Yeah, he’s done some things away from the ball that he’s had to clean up. He’s got the tag on him, but not on the play we’re talking about. That’s what I don’t get."
Burfict drew a 15-yard penalty for the hit, which—compounded by another 15-yard flag tacked on for unsportsmanlike conduct by Adam "Pacman" Jones—positioned the Steelers to kick a game-winning field goal and end Cincy’s season.
"What I’m more mad about is Adam [Jones]," Guenther said. "He got the penalty when [Steelers assistant coach] Joey Porter was in the middle of the field. That’s what nobody is talking about. That was Adam’s penalty. It’s lumped into Vontaze, just thrown into his basket and I think it’s wrong. I think it’s wrong."
Brown called Burfict “an idiot” for costing the Bengals a win in a game they clearly should’ve won in an interview with The Dan Patrick Show (h/t NBC Sports):
In suspending Burfict, the league cited “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules,” per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.
Burfict hit a Green Bay Packers player in the crotch in 2013, was fined $25,000 for twisting Cam Newton's and Greg Olsen's ankles in 2014, dove at Ben Roethlisberger’s ankles in a 2015 regular-season meeting and was the tackler on the play that ended Le’Veon Bell’s season.
Of those incidents, the hit on Bell looked clean. However, Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster took issue with Burfict and the Bengals defense celebrating the tackle that ended the superstar’s season.
"He's that type of guy. That type of guy gets his sooner or later. So, wait and see, I guess. He's that type of guy, period," Foster said of Burfict, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (h/t John Breech of CBSSports.com). "If you're on the field with him, you know what I mean by that. They'll play it off; he'll act dumb about it. But you don't run across the field hyped, celebrating, jumping up and down when a guy goes down like that.”
However, Bufict’s new position coach, Jim Haslett, echoed Guenther and believes the rugged linebacker is merely a victim of his perceived reputation.
"There's a target on him or whatever you want to say. People are watching him," Haslett said, per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official website. "If he just plays the game like he plays and doesn't worry about the rest of it, he'll be fine because he's a heck of a player, and he makes a lot of plays."
Guenther even said if he’s in a position to do so, he’ll hire Burfict to be a coach once his playing career is over, per Dehner Jr.:
I’ve said it before, and I want it to be said now, because of where he’s at, when he’s done playing I am going to hire him as a coach, if I’m still coaching. When he leaves football he’s got a job. I’m going to hire him, because he is way smarter than everyone gives him credit for. Everyone thinks he’s this thug. He is smart. He’ll come into meetings on Wednesdays and say they’re doing this, they’re doing that. He gets it like that. He is smart.
If that's the case, Burfict will need to make major adjustments to how he plays before coaching others at the position.