There comes a time when everyone makes a change. That time has essentially come for Vontaze Burfict. The WILL linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals is aware of the national attention directed his way. He’s heard the talk and seen the analysts demonize him for the mistakes he’s made. The NFL has suspended Burfict for three games to start the 2016 season. It’s now or never for the talented defensive signal-caller.
Quite a few players have been called into NFL chambers to meet with Roger Goodell. Yet, no other player called to a disciplinary meeting for their behavior on the field has had the high-profile position that Burfict holds. After the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burfict was made the poster boy for defensive foul play. Announcers and analysts were not the least bit shy about calling it one way.
one thing i’m learning from last night’s game: the announcers REALLY mold ppl’s impressions of what they saw.— Aht Uh Mi Hed (@bomani_jones) January 10, 2016
Goodell slapped Burfict with the second stiffest personal foul suspension ever doled out. According to Pro Football Talk, the longest suspension was dealt to Albert Haynesworth of the Titans. He was hit with a five-game spanking for stepping on the head of the Cowboys’ center, Andre Gurode.
Will the punishment turn things around? Will Burfict finally understand what the NFL and Cincinnati Bengals expect of him? So far, the message is ringing loud and clear. Vontaze has listened to the league and said he needs to change.
Burfict knows that his reputation precedes him whenever a close call is made. Per ESPN, Burfict finally commented on the media hype and the Antonio Brown hit that has helped label him as the dirtiest player in the NFL.
“Like I told coach, I wish I could take that play back because I probably would’ve hit him low.”
He understands the severity and implications of what happened.
“I don’t like hitting low,” Burfict explained. “But I have to change because it’s getting flags – because I hit him high or hit him in the helmet. It’s so hard to determine where to hit the offender because they’re gonna tuck their body, and you have to pretty much tuck with them.”
Burfict is taking responsibility for the hit. He realizes that it was a bang-bang play, and he should have made a better effort to pull up. He acknowledges that he has developed a negative reputation around the league, and he said that has an effect on how penalties are called.
“I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble,” Burfict admitted. “My style of play is aggressive, and the game has changed, and I have to change with it.”
His style of play is rugged. He’s a throwback to the days of head slaps and defensive dominance. The Bengals drafted him for that reckless abandon. But, the NFL is under scrutiny. What was acceptable in grandpa’s day is frowned upon today.
“I think if I wasn’t number 55, I wouldn’t have got flagged.”
Vontaze Burfict is a gifted athlete with a gigantic football IQ. The media has created an image of him that will be hard to reshape. But, he is beginning the change by admitting to his shortcomings.
Burfict has been flagged for personal foul penalties 16 times in the regular season and postseason since he entered the league in 2012. Seven players from the Week 14 Bengals-Steelers battle drew fines amounting to nearly $140,000, but Burfict had to pay nearly half of that for his three fines for three incidents in the game.
Although he has accumulated tons of penalties, Burfict still remains one of the Bengals top defensive players. After missing six games, he was still able to compile 74 tackles. Bengals Director of Player Personnel, Duke Tobin, endorsed Burfict. His challenge is to stay aggressive and be smart.
“Vontaze did far more to make us win that game and the season than he did to lose it. I think we forget that four plays earlier Vontaze really won the game for us with a diving interception and we weren’t able to capitalize on that for the win, or else we’d be talking about how great Vontaze is.”
Maybe this will be the year Burfict shows how amazing he can be.
[Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]