The verdict is in among fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers around the globe, and the verdict reads Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is now 'Public Enemy No. 1'. Such a statement shouldn't shock anyone as the volatile linebacker single-handedly damaged the Steelers chances of winning a Super Bowl last year.
It started when Burfict's tackle on Le'Veon Bell in the Week 8 matchup torn Bell's MCL and ended his season. It didn't stop there as his sack on Ben Roethlisberger in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs hurt the quarterback's throwing shoulder, but that wasn't the most egregious of the issues in 2015. Burfict's high hit on Antonio Brown didn't just cause a fine and a penalty in the game, but left the All Pro wide out concussed and forced to sit out the team's divisional game against the Denver Broncos the following week.
Since begin suspended for the first three games of the 2016 NFL season, Burfict has remained quiet -- until now. He recently sat down with Josina Anderson of ESPN.com to talk about his style of play, the ever evolving rules in the NFL and his hit on Brown.
As for the hit on Brown, Burfict believes his reputation had a lot to do with the flag being thrown late in the 4th quarter.
"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," he said. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it, and that play right there, I think if I wasn't number 55, I wouldn't have got flagged."
Although he may be right, there is only one person to blame for his missteps along the way, and that would be Burfict himself. He has had his share of issues since entering the NFL. Here are some of his misdeeds which have resulted in a fine from the NFL.
* 2015 Week 17: $50K for unnecessary contact of an opponent who was out of play vs. Ravens
* 2015 Week 14: A total of $69,454 for roughing the passer, face mask and unnecessary roughness penalties
* 2014 Week 6: $25K for twisting the ankles of Cam Newton and Greg Olsen
* 2013 Week 8: $21K for hitting Stephen Hill with the crown of his helmet
* 2013 Week 6: $7,875 for a face mask penalty vs. the Bills' Fred Jackson
* 2013 Week 3: A total of $31K for a hit on a defenseless player and striking an opponent in the groin
Not necessarily boy scout material there, but Burfict believes he has to change with the NFL, because the NFL clearly isn't changing for him. This would bring the discussion directly back to the hit on Brown, where Burfict believes the 'bang-bang' play hurt him in the end.
"I tried to pull up at the last second, but it was obviously too late -- it's a bang-bang play," Burfict said.
"Like I told coach [Marvin Lewis], I wish I could take that play back because I probably would've hit him low," Burfict said in his first public comments about the incident. "I don't like hitting low, but I have to change because it's getting flags because I hit him high or hit him in the helmet, and 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 has a point on the NFL's protection of offensive players, but he certainly isn't alone as a defender having to follow the rules. Will Burfict change? Those who wave Terrible Towels will likely disagree, but only time will tell if he has learned from his past and will clean up his act in the future.