The NFL suspended Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for repeated on-field safety violations, citing his hit to Antonio Brown’s helmet in Saturday night’s AFC wildcard game as the final straw.
“Burfict’s most recent violation came with 22 seconds remaining in last Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he was penalized for unnecessary roughness for using his shoulder to make forcible contact to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver,” a statement from the league read. “The suspension was imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Merton Hanks, who ruled that Burfict’s action placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided. The suspension will take effect at the time of the final roster reduction prior to Week 1 of the 2016 regular-season.”
Burfict played with a glaring intensity against the Pittsburgh Steelers, fighting on the ground with offensive lineman David DeCastro, injuring Ben Roethlisberger with a monster sack, and intercepting a Landry Jones pass in the final two minutes. But his hit on Brown in the game’s final half minute set in motion a cascading series of events that enabled the Steelers to win 18-16. Pittsburgh, after benefiting from a second Cincinnati penalty, from midfield to inside the 20-yard line, where Chris Boswell nailed a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.
The NFL points out four earlier fines meted out for rough play against the rough player this season. Prior to sending Roethlisberger back to the locker room and allegedly concussing Brown, Burfict, in his first game back from an injury this season, ended Steelers running back La’Veon Bell’s year, which, along with a celebration after the play, fueled a loathing between the division rivals.
The NFL suggests that other punishments may follow Burfict’s. The league’s release notes, “The conduct of other players and coaches in the Steelers-Bengals game is being reviewed for potential discipline.”
Burfict aims to appeal the punishment.