Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict could be facing a multi-game suspension next season after his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown during Saturday night's game, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict is facing suspension for his hit on Antonio Brown during Saturday night's wild-card game, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 10, 2016
The hit came with 22 seconds remaining in the game. Cincinnati, who erased a 15-point fourth quarter deficit by outscoring Pittsburgh 16-0 in the final 14 minutes, held onto a one-point lead. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who re-entered the game after missing a majority of the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, targeted Brown over the middle.
The overthrown pass forced the outstretched Brown to leave his feet. After all, the Steelers began the play from the Bengals 47-yard line with seconds remaining. A completion would bring Pittsburgh into range of a distant game-winning field goal attempt -- however, without any timeouts, the Steelers needed to spike the clock and time was factor. Once the football zipped past Brown, Burfict lowered his right shoulder and contacted Brown's head, sending the receiver spiraling to the ground.
Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Steelers 15 yards and moving Pittsburgh to the Bengals 32-yard line. Now we're talking about a 50-yard field goal in rainy conditions -- while possible, the attempt would have been difficult.
Brown lay on the field and the game was stopped. Steelers assistant linebackers coach Joey Porter walked onto the field, with his crocodile tears issued toward Brown, while, as Adam Jones tells NFL reporter Mike Silver, shouted expletives at Burfict.
"He ain't supposed to be on the (expletive) field!" Jones said. "He was talking all kinds of (expletive), yelling at (Burfict), saying, 'You a dirty son of a bitch ... Take your bitch ass out of here ...' So I turned to him and said, 'Why are you talking?' I didn't even touch him. And they threw a flag.
"How can they throw a flag on you for talking (expletive) to a coach? Especially to a (expletive) who ain't supposed to be on the field? It'd be different if I was gonna approach a (expletive) player. There's a big (expletive) difference. I mean, Mike Tomlin wasn't even on the field. Why the (expletive) is Joey Porter on the field, period?"
According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Porter will be fined by the league.
Watching the replay, Burfict places his hand on Brown's back, saying something to Brown (it appeared more out of concern than antagonism). One of the silver-haired trainers removed Burfict's arm, who immediately yanked his arm away. At about that time, Porter started jawing at players in the Bengals' huddle.
During the exchange, Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as he's being pulled away from the confrontation by Leon Hall. The penalty gave Pittsburgh an additional 15 yards and moved the Steelers to Cincinnati's 17-yard line. Chris Boswell's game-winning field goal was easy.
"He's trying to go over and defend the play. There were a lot of plays out there and calls went different ways," Lewis said after the game. "They deemed that to be a hit to the head I guess, and others not today." Lewis, visibly frustrated during the presser, predictable defended his players while hinting the officials missed Ryan Shanzier's illegal hit on Giovani Bernard (NOTE: the issue has nothing to do with being a "defenseless receiver").
Some players expressed frustration, via Bengals.com, without dumping each other under the bus.
"We lost our cool. We have to play with more poise," Atkins said. "It's one of the worst losses I've been a part of. To have the lead with (1:23) left and it ticks off like that, it's pretty bad."
"You have to have better control than that, for sure," Whitworth said. "We just have to be smart throughout the game and make the best decisions to win, so I don't know what all happened and I guess I'll know more tomorrow. It's unfortunate."
"Listen, those two didn't lose the game," Iloka said. "They are who they are. We wouldn't even be in the playoffs if it wasn't for those two this year. Don't even start with that. All the plays they make. The play Vontaze made. That put us in position. The plays that (Jones) made this year. I'm not worried about that. That did not lose this game. It was a combination of other things."
Regardless of how you perceive the game-ending confrontation, the actions of both players, inside 30 seconds of the game, had a severe, direct and legitimate impact. Burfict could (and perhaps should) miss multiple games early next season. Whatever Jones said/did during the confrontation only enhanced Boswell's opportunity to convert a game-winning chip-shot field goal.
Even players within the lockerroom are questioning if Saturday's loss may have cost Lewis his job.
"After all, Lewis' team squandered a sure victory not only because one player (running back Jeremy Hill) lost the football on an unconscionable fumble, but because two others -- Burfict and Jones -- lost their minds at the worst possible time," writes Silver with NFL Media. "Fair or not, the glaring lack of discipline that resulted in consecutive 15-yard penalties against those two defenders to set up Boswell's kick reflect back on Lewis, leading to natural speculation by players and coaches inside the Cincinnati locker room that it might cost the coach his job."
Saturday's game was a failure on many fronts. Players couldn't control their emotional outbursts, tried crushing others in critical moments, lost fumbles, all the while the officiating was frustratingly inconsistent. Pittsburgh is fortunate to have such a win gift-wrapped for them as Cincinnati ponders their future. Should Marvin Lewis be fired as the team's head coach? Should Cincinnati stick with the status quo on Burfict and Jones? These questions will irritatingly be asked for the next six months as Saturday's game will be the last image we have of the Bengals until training camp.