With 14:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were on the verge of losing their momentum. Despite stringing together a 12-play drive for 80 yards, capped by a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown, the Bengals slowly regressed with a three and out possession that was compounded by an efficient Jay Cutler, who completed five of six passes for 71 yards in the third quarter. The Bears were warming up and Cincinnati was about to lose their focus... and their cool.
So the Bengals needed something.
Jay Cutler took the first down snap from the Bears 44-yard line early in the fourth quarter and slung the football over the middle. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict intercepted the football and returned it 12 yards before a Kyle Adams lowered his body into Burfict's knee to bring him down.
At first, it was a celebration.
Only that it wasn't.
Save for the fact that Mohamed Sanu coughed up the football three plays later, Burfict suffered an injury during the interception. After being attended to by trainers for several minutes, the starting linebacker left the field and his return was officially listed as questionable. And by questionable, we mean missing zero defensive plays because Burfict doesn't feel pain... only dishes it out. In fact, Burfict made a great tackle on the Bears very next play, limiting Matt Forte to a one-yard gain.
Several plays later, Jay Cutler took advantage of the one flaw in Cincinnati's defense Sunday. Completely ignoring the quarterback. Seconds after the snap, Cutler found an opening from the pristine Bears pass protection and sprinted 18 yards down the middle of the field. Burfict dove on the quarterback, who had begun the process of sliding. Down on one knee, Burfict was forced off the field again -- this time, he was slow walking off. He's done. No way he returns. One play goes by, and Burfict returns for the rest of the game. He finished with a team-leading eight tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.
Seriously. Burfict not only played his guts out, he was one tough and productive son of a gun.
So how's that knee?
Burfict didn't talk much about the injury after Cincinnati's 24-21 loss on Sunday, but admitted that that it was "just a bruise" and that he'll receive treatment on Monday. In fact, he had a bigger issue with Kyle Adams' tackle, saying that "I felt like he tried to take me out."
These type of low hits into the opposing player's knees are generating some attention this year, highlighted by Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, who wiped out Dustin Keller's season last month. Swearinger, realizing that hitting a player high will result in a fine, choose to go low for the legal hit.
"With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low," Swearinger said via ESPN. "If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. ... Right now it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards. You’ve got to play within the rules."
Cincinnati's roster of linebackers is extremely fragile right now, so thankfully Burfict's injury isn't any more serious. Or maybe he tore every ligament and that tough sonofabitch just played through it. It really wouldn't surprise me.