Following his actions in the Bengals’ 35-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000, but will not be suspended. Many members of the Bengals’ organization are not happy about the fine, as expressed by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday.
“(Burfict) didn’t do anything wrong. We were not in the wrong here,” Lewis said on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, Lewis said that he wasn’t concerned that Burfict would be suspended, which we now know he didn’t need to be. “I don’t think he meant to do anything. I’ve been through it back and forth (on screens) as big as this board behind me. All I can see was he tried to step through and tried to go help the teammate that had somebody from another team had a hand on his teammates’ facemask pushing him in the face. That’s what he’s trying to get to.”
What went unnoticed by many, but not Lewis, is the fact that Legarrette Blount picked a fight with Bengals safety Shawn Williams on the ground in the middle of the pile of players that Burfict was standing over. It appears as though Burfict was trying to make his way through the pile to help his teammate out who was being unjustly pushed in the face by Blount.
There seems to be a witch hunt on Burfict based on his embattled history, which includes $805,400 in fines (including a three game suspension worth $534,000) from eight different NFL games, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Bengals’ head coach went as far as to point out that anything that Burfict may be accused of was unintentional and that he’s sick of it.
“That’s a thing he knows he has to realize all the time that way so it’s not the national fury all the time of what’s going on,” Lewis said. “Just play football. Our guys aren’t going to talk about it. As I instructed everybody if they have any questions they can talk to me about it.”
When you watch the replay of the incident in question, it might appear as though Burfict stomps on Blount’s left leg as Blount is coming up from the pile. But, you could just as easily make the argument that he was trying to step around defensive tackle Pat Sims who moved out of the way at the last second, causing Burfict to misstep.
Video: From coaches film (courtesy NFL), watch Vontaze Burfict (55) deliberately step on Blount's leg after TD. pic.twitter.com/wtTPqy3XHP— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 17, 2016
Whatever the case, that is not how the NFL saw the matter, which is why Burfict ended up being fined such a heavy amount. Though, he is appealing the fine. You can’t help but wonder if a player with less of a reputation for reckless play would have been fined nearly as much for the same incident, if at all. There is no direct evidence that the NFL is intentionally targeting Burfict due to his reputation. But, a quote by the referees, recalled by Carlos Dunlap, shows the overly suspicious behavior by NFL officials toward Burfict.
“There was one time when the ref came to us and told us to ‘have 55 calm down something-something.’ But he wasn’t in the middle of the thing when it happened,” Dunlap said via the Enquirer. “I was just like, see that. I was trying to tell him that’s how they look. When stuff go on, they’re going to assume you were close by or involved. And he wasn’t on that time. “
Ultimately, the NFL’s decision is something that Burfict is going to have to deal with. Whether or not he did anything worth getting in trouble for against the Patriots is up for debate, but what is not up for debate is his actions in the past have put him in the hole and spotlight that he is in now. But, don’t tell that to Lewis, who completely disagrees with the action taken by the NFL.
“I agree with that 100 percent,” Lewis said in response to the observation that Burfict’s past actions are causing increased attention in his direction. “That’s a thing he knows he’s got to realize all the time. So it’s not the national furor all the time. Just play football.”
Unfortunately, the position that Burfict is in is his own fault. He has committed 26 penalties in his four years in the league, 16 of which have been unnecessary roughness or personal fouls. Lately, it might seem as though he has been receiving a disproportionate amount of punishment for his actions. But, he was penalized for unnecessary roughness or personal foul exactly as often in his first two years (2012-2013) as he was in the last two years (2014-2015).
Through it all, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals are sticking by Burfict’s side.