Vontaze Burfict was at the center of multiple headlines on Wednesday, and the media's creation of and reaction to these headlines exemplifies a major problem for the Bengals. When it comes to Cincinnati, the media consistently pushes false or exaggerated narratives against the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Tuesday afternoon, ESPN released Josina Anderson's full one-on-one interview with Vontaze Burfict, which specifically addressed Cincinnati's Wild Card playoff loss, Burfict's shattered reputation and his ensuing three-game suspension. Regarding his hit on Brown, Burfict claimed that had Antonio Brown not ducked his head after missing the incomplete pass, the linebacker "wouldn't have ever hit him."
Granted, it didn't look like Antonio Brown was trying to duck into Burfict's hit; it's just the way the play happened. As Burfict later mentioned, it was a "bang-bang play." That Brown ducked and Burfict made contact with Brown's helmet, at least to me, seemed completely incidental. Paul Guenther has also backed him up in the last week, essentially saying the same. Though media outlets constantly show the play in slow-motion, which makes Burfict's hit look more and more intentional, it's crucial to remember that the hit happened in about a second's time, not in 10 seconds.
Burfict admitted he felt bad about the play because it hurt his teammates and coaches. However, he also made it known that he doesn't blame the loss for himself.
When watching the interview, it's clear Burfict is candid and honest in all of his answers, as Anderson even points out on her Facebook page. Despite this, people like John Breech of CBS Sports have taken parts of the interview to portray Burfict as the scapegoat of Cincinnati's Wild Card loss. Here's a quick excerpt of Breech's article published Tuesday night, which further emphasizes my point:
Although a lot of people blamed Burfict for the Bengals' loss, Burfict apparently doesn't feel the same way. During an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Bengals linebacker said that the loss wasn't his fault.
Burfict was asked directly if he blamed himself for the loss against the Steelers.
"No, I don't," Burfict said.
According to Burfict, most of the blame for the loss should fall on a teammate, who he didn't name.
Then there's also articles like the one in the New York Post, titled, "Bengals’ villain scapegoats pal in quest to save crushed reputation."
Burfict doesn't even address who to blame in Cincinnati's loss until a couple of minutes later in the interview, and when he addresses the issue, he simply states that he "trusted his teammate to execute and finish the game." He made no mention of Jeremy Hill specifically, yet ESPN cut to a video of Jeremy Hill fumbling the ball while Burfict was speaking. It's also important to note that this whole quote doesn't stem from Anderson asking Burfict who should be blamed for the loss; it rooted in Anderson asking Burfict whether he regretted celebrating his interception of Landry Jones, which, at the time, looked like it sealed a Bengals victory.
But because ESPN cut to a video of Hill during Burfict's response, people across the country will believe Burfict is directly blaming his teammate, when in all actuality, he's simply saying he trusted his teammates. If it were another offensive teammate making a mistake to lose the game, the linebacker would've made the same response, and rightfully so. Burfict kept his team alive in the playoff game, and would have been the MVP of the game, had the final minute and 30 seconds of the matchup unfolded without issue. Yet, as he said, it unfolded like a "nightmare" and he's being made out as a guy who was the sole reason for Cincinnati's loss.
Anderson's interview with Burfict was a great piece of journalism, and I highly recommend you watch it for yourself. Burfict is very blunt and honest in the interview, and he speaks as to how Cincinnati's coaching staff has helped him, how Roger Goodell offered some good advice and how he feels cheated by the league.
He also gives his take on Goodall's proposed rule to eject players after multiple personal foul penalties in the same game (which he approves of), vows to lower his penalty numbers in 2016 and rejects the notion that he's a troubled guy. But I also encourage you to examine the interview and determine whether it was fair. The dialogue between Anderson and Burfict was excellent, but the majority of the video and sound bytes utilized throughout the video portray Burfict as a dirty player and bad person. Even in the aftermath immediately following the interview, an ESPN analyst references Mike Zimmer's praise for Burfict's intelligence right before calling Burfict an out-of-control player. The analyst, however, does not distinguish between Zimmer's praise and his own opinion of Burfict, which again, goes to show how biased ESPN and the national media can be when it comes to Burfict.
If you need any more evidence, take a look at the headline of this piece written by Matt Loede of SteelersGab: "Bengals LB Burfict Sends a Rather Bizarre Text to Steelers RB Bell." Why Burfict's respect for his opponent is "bizarre" is beyond my understanding. To my knowledge, Burfict has never spoken ill of any NFL opponent, yet Vince Williams threatened to kill him on sight and Antonio Brown called him an idiot. But to Steeler fans, Burfict is still a thug, simply because some in the media portray him as such.