While Vontaze Burfict is conducting one of his first interviews since his three-game suspension and exchanging phone numbers with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he’s keeping an eye on his daughter as she approaches a year old and all kinds of furniture as he relaxes with his family in California.
It sounds like she just barely avoided a corner of the desk with his help. “Watch her, watch her,” says the Bengals defensive traffic cop.
And, yes, she reminds him of somebody.
“You can pretty much say me,” Burfict said Tuesday afternoon. “She loves to run everywhere and she doesn’t know how to stop yet, so she’ll run full speed into the couch.”
Burfict vows he’s also going to keep playing full speed worthy of the NFL’s best linebacker that he thinks he is. While he also says he has to change his style, he’s not looking for a total makeover because he thinks this past season showed why he’s the best after putting up 74 tackles and three interceptions despite missing the first six games coming off micro fracture knee surgery.
“No disrespect to the other linebackers, but the leader had how many tackles?” Burfict asked of NaVorro Bowman’s NFL-best 154. “That’s easy.”
But even before he met with Goodell two weeks ago with head coach Marvin Lewis, Burfict told Lewis he had to adjust after the crushing Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh.
“I’m going to change my hitting target. I told Marvin, ‘I have to go lower,’’’ Burfict said. “I don’t want to hit guys low. I told Marvin I’m not that type of player. I don’t want to take guys’ knees out. I’m 250 pounds. Hitting a guy in the knee? I think that’s dirtier than hitting a guy high."
But he knows he'll have to find the middle.
Burfict thought his meeting with “Mr. Goodell,” went “great.” The decision to uphold Burfict’s suspension for repeat offenses of player safety rules had already been made, so this was about two guys getting to measure the other.
It’s a side his teammates and others see. For instance, when the plane boarded for the flight home from the bitter loss to Denver back in late December, Burfict offered his seat to a staffer struggling to breathe in the frozen Mile High air. But the headlines belonged to his unnecessary roughness call that gave life to Denver’s winning field goal in overtime on a play that many in his locker room thought was borderline.
“The commissioner was able to introduce himself to me and I could introduce myself to him,” Burfict said. “To see me away from football. I think it was a good meeting because he got a chance to see Vontaze Burfict out of the helmet, seeing me at the table smiling, and seeing my personality. It’s a different perspective for him to look at me.”
Burfict understands that his reputation precedes him when he goes on the field and that he has to change some things. But he also wanted Goodell to know that he believes officials are waiting for him to retaliate rather than making the original call of the player fouling or baiting him.
“All I want is equal treatment,” Burfict said. “The offensive linemen poking me in the eye and the ref waiting for me to retaliate, you get worn down and frustrated. Hopefully it changes next year.”
There'll be no retaliation on his part, he says. He'll simply report the offenses against him to the league.
“I’ll start turning plays in. I should have started doing it last year,” he said.
What is not lost on Burfict is how the end of the Wild Card loss obscured how well he played in what was a Defensive Player of the Year effort in the agonizing 18-16 crusher.
He came up with two game-changing plays in the fourth quarter, a goal-line sack of Ben Roethlisberger that drove the Steelers quarterback from the game with a shoulder injury and set a Bengals score, and an all-out diving interception of Landry Jones at the Pittsburgh 24 with 1:32 left that looked to put the Bengals in the AFC Divisional Game.
But Bengals running back
“I puIled up at the last second. If you look at it really close, you can see Brown pull his head toward my shoulder to make contact,” Burfict said. “I wouldn’t say we lost the game because of me, but I let my teammates down because of that flag.
“But then again, we probably wouldn’t have been in that position without my interception, without the sack on Ben. But you take the good with the bad . . . All of a sudden it was a nightmare and I’m the bad guy.”
So while Burfict says he’ll adjust, he’s also vowing to be better than ever. “And we’re going to come back and go even farther.” It’s wrong for people (and the Pro Bowl ballot) to compare him to the sacks of Denver’s Von Miller, a 3-4 rush linebacker. The better comparison are the tackles and interceptions of Carolina Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly.
His main goal is winning the Super Bowl, he says. A secondary goal is repeating his 2013 Pro Bowl berth. And he thinks he can win a Pro Bowl vote of the players and coaches.
“They respect me. I just have to change some of the things I do,” Burfict said. “But they respect me. It’s the reason why I’m on this bubble right now because they all respect me and they fear me.”