7 dirtiest plays of Vontaze Burfict's career



Vontaze Burfict is an exceptional talent. When he’s locked in, as he was for the second half of last season, he’s a playmaking linebacker who makes the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense roar.

He also has perhaps the ugliest history of cheap shots and dirty plays in the NFL right now. To separate the talent from the ugliness is to ignore more than a decade of head shots, scuffles and more.

That, more than anything, is the driving force behind the NFL’s five-game suspension of Burfict for a hit that the Bengals and For The Win‘s Steven Ruiz say was legal. The linebacker isn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt, thanks to his history – one he might not even talk about depending on his mood.

Here’s a look at seven plays that have shaped how we think of Burfict:

7. The loose chinstrap?

We’re starting with this one because it was so brutal-looking and clearly an illegal hit, but also not necessarily intentional. This play in 2009 was not unusual for Burfict because part of his problem is any low hit or helmet-to-helmet contact looks more brutal when you’re as powerful as him.

Still, it was a helmet-to-helmet blow, and Stanford fullback Owen Marecic took the brunt of it as his helmet went flying.

6. The first fine

After going undrafted because of his anger management problems and injury worries, Burfict made it through his rookie year without getting into any on-field trouble. But on Sept. 22, 2013, he got his first fine.

As you can see in the above video, Burfict smacked Green Bay Packers tight end Ryan Taylor below the belt, leading to Taylor pushing Burfict and drawing a penalty. But the NFL’s review led to Burfict drawing a $10,000 fine, along with a $21,000 fine in the same game for a headshot on receiver James Jones.

5. His own teammate?

A fight broke out at Bengals camp earlier this month when Burfict tackled low on running back Giovani Bernard, who is recovering from knee surgery.

Burfict has a long history with practice fights among teammates for tackling too hard when it doesn’t count, and to some football people, that might not be such a bad sign. But potentially injuring an important running back is not a good thing.

4. The high school hit

Burfict was unstoppable in high school, but so was future USC quarterback Matt Barkley. So what happened when they met on the field? Look at how Burfict dives low at Barkley after the throw is released. That’s the type of play that would have been scrutinized heavily if it happened in the NFL.

3. The ankle twist

This one is just gross. Burfict couldn’t prevent Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton from getting into the end zone in an Oct. 12, 2014, game, so he seemingly tried to break his ankle once they both were on the ground. That Newton was coming off ankle surgery made it hard to believe this was a mistake.

Amazingly, he also tried the same thing with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen in that game. The two ankle-twists cost Burfict $25,000, though Olsen said the linebacker should have been suspended.

2. The off-ball low blow

Burfict’s hit on New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett mostly led to discussion of his jawing with Rob Gronkowski. But that was underplaying how egregious the hit itself was. Well before Tom Brady released his throw, Burfict was diving toward the side of Bennett’s knee and bracing himself for impact.

The hit could have had absolutely no positive impact for the Bengals. Bennett was already past the first-down market, even if the throw had been aimed toward him, and if the pass had been aimed toward him, it would have been pass interference on Burfict. It was a stupid, ugly play that appeared to have the goal of injuring Bennett – very different, for instance, then the Marecic hit that started this list.

1. Jan. 9, 2016

The Bengals were playing the Steelers in the first round of the AFC playoffs. They had the fortune of playing at home, and there was reason for Bengals fans to feel good about this team’s chances. Alas, Burfict.

The story goes like this: Burfict sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger – who had accused him of diving low on a tackle in a previous game. The legal sack led to Roethlisberger injuring his shoulder, which drew some interesting theories. Did Burfict knee the quarterback’s shoulder while he was down?

It’s tough to tell whether that knee motion was intentional, but it doesn’t look natural. And with Burfict, the benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist.

Anyway, with Roethlisberger out, the Bengals appeared to be in a good place. And Burfict helped potentially seal a win by intercepting Landry Jones.

That’s what a player of his talent can do for a team. But the Bengals gave the ball right back to the Steelers, and this happened after Antonio Brown made an impressive catch.

As you can see, the Steelers already were at the edge of field-goal territory down one with 18 seconds left. But Burfict’s personal foul – plus another penalty to Bengals cornerback Adam Jones for the scrum that followed – put them right where they wanted to be to hit the field goal.

Burfict was suspended three games for that one, a blatant, brutal cheap shot that cost the Steelers their best player for the ensuing game against the Denver Broncos. It’s the moment that undoubtedly will define his playing career unless he becomes a Super Bowl hero or somehow does something worse.

Burfict’s hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman wasn’t that bad, but it didn’t have to be. Burfict doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt in these cases. How could he?

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