Now that Vontaze Burfict has done it two years in a row, surfaced at the start of a regular-season game after nary a full-loaded practice, you may have to start calling him one of those legendary Bengals in the cult figure realm.
Burfict ended his three-game suspension in typical fashion Thursday night with a rambunctious, active night where he played all but 11 snaps in the 22-7 win over the Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium and his teammates didn't think it was a coincidence his 2016 debut matched the strongest defensive effort of the season.
No red-zone appearances for the Dolphins. The Bengals prevented first downs on third down 12 out of 15 times, pitched seven three-and-outs, and in the final 54 minutes held Miami to 148 yards.
"It's amazing to see the plays he made there," said left end Carlos Dunlap, who put a mark in all but two defensive categories. "Those are football instinctive plays. Those are things you can't coach. He came off the couch and played like he's been with us the whole time. We're glad to have him because we've got him for the long haul now. We just need to get his wind back."
But defensive coordinator Paul Guenther did such a nice sleight of hand rotating his linebackers; you didn't know who got the bulk of it. When the dust settled, Burfict (36) outplayed them all with Vincent Rey (15), Rey Maualuga (23) and Karlos Dansby (22)having their snaps even out after playing heavily in the first three games.
"I think I was pretty good," Burfict said of his football shape. "I wasn't too winded. I had great help from my teammates calling out the plays because yelling at everybody can get you tired. My linebackers helped get the call to the secondary and linebackers."
A.J. Green called this one a gut-check back after Sunday's game and it became one for the defense on the Dolphins' second offensive snap. After giving up two long TD bombs against Denver four days before, they gave up another shocking one when Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills got behind the secondary wide open on a blown coverage for a 74-yard TD pass that Miami briefly, 7-3, sent a 1-3 shudder through Bengaldom.
"I know the defense's ins and outs. I just want everyone accountable, even myself," Burfict said. "I felt like we played a good game overall. I'm still mad about the touchdown because I felt like they shouldn't have scored on us. I think they had like 220 yards total and we were trying to keep them under 200 total."
If not for that screw-up, Miami doesn't score. Safety George Iloka was the closest guy to Stills, but while he didn't reveal who screwed up, he revealed a lot. The national narrative may be the Bengals lost their cool in the Wild Card Game last year, but on this night they collected their wits and calmly stacked good play after good play.
"I pride myself on being disciplined. I don't let anyone get behind me," Iloka said. "No matter how it happens, I can't let it happen it's my job. I'm just glad after that play we talked and you saw the results how we re-focused and played.
"We've got a lot guys who have played here quite a bit we know the standard of defense we keep in the back end. Keep the ball in front of us and make the plays when they come to us, don't force it … When we give up a first down or a touchdown, I get mad."
What impressed Dunlap is how they rebounded as a group, ending the first half with five straight three-and-outs.
"We didn't waver. We didn't flinch," Dunlap said. "Typically when stuff like that happens, you break down. Guys start pointing fingers. But we've got a veteran defense. We pulled together and we made sure we stopped that next series. It was explosive. We were trying to prove a point that it was a cheap, quick play, but you're not going to get us again."
A major reason is because the Dolphins revamped their offensive line and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins destroyed their No. 3 center and backup left guard with 1.5 sacks. Dunlap ran roughshod over the regular right tackle after he got benched in overtime last week and may get the nod again.
"We lick our chops," Dunlap said of the new players in there and the absence of center Mike Pouncey. "When you don't have your Pro Bowl center in there this is a difficult environment with our crowd and the way our defensive line plays."
Dunlap had two sacks, but his most important rush may have come on the series right after the Bengals took a 10-7 lead. When right end Michael Johnson went offside, that gave Miami a third-and-1 from the Dolphins 45. They called a bootleg, but Dunlap was all over it and made Tannehill unload it sooner than he wanted to. He threw it behind a receiver wide open for the first down and that was that.
"I felt I could have done more, but the coaches had a plan for me and switched me in and out with Vinny and Karlos and they did a good job of that," Burfict said. "At the end of the game, I started to feel my wind catching up, but every game I'll feel like I'll get better and better and get my legs up under me."
The Bengals think their defense will follow suit.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium in week 4 of the regular season 9/29/2016