The NFL disagreed with the Bengals' take on the film and upheld Vontaze Burfict's suspension.
INDIANAPOLIS - Despite the Bengals' belief that they had solid proof on film, the NFL on Wednesday upheld linebacker Vontaze Burfict's suspension for hitting what the league calls a defenseless player running a pass route when he made a play on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman on Aug. 19.
After Tuesday's intensive conference call appealing the decision, the league did reduce it from five games to three, matching the suspension he had for the first three games of last season for a similar safety violation. But it is a blow to the Bengals defense with the loss of their best player for games against Baltimore, Houston, and Green Bay. It also is in direct contrast to the interpretation of the rules from a member of the NFL's competition committee, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
On Tuesday, Lewis, who also was on the appeal call, characterized the ruling as incorrect because of the film. The Bengals objected to two points in the ruling handed down by NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan. Burfict, they say, hit Sherman in the chest and not from behind or the side, and they argue Sherman wasn't out of the play.
"Does Vontaze hit him from the back or from the side or does he put his shoulder into the number of the Kanas City Chiefs player," Lewis said. "Obviously I'd have to be facing you to put my number in there. It seems pretty obvious."
The Bengals appealed the suspension to James Thrash, a jointly appointed appeals officer by the NFL and NFL Players Association. The league released parts of Runyan's letter to Burfict when they announced its decision.
"This is not your first offense with respect to illegal hits to defenseless players; to the contrary, this incident is consistent with your pattern of egregious safety-related violations including your hit on a defenseless player during the 2015 Wild Card game and your hit against a Baltimore tight end away from the play on January 3, 2016," Runyan wrote. "When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player…you must be held accountable for this continuing unacceptable conduct."
Runyan also said Burfict's actions violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 (a) (2) which states that it is a foul if *"a *player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture. (a) Players in a defenseless posture are: (2) A receiver running a pass route when the defender approaches from the side or behind. If the receiver becomes a blocker or assumes a blocking posture, he is no longer a defenseless player."
His actions, Runyan said, also violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6, (g), which prohibits "unnecessarily running, diving into, cutting, or throwing the body against or on a player who (1) is out of the play or (2) should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent, before or after the ball is dead."
But Burfict and Lewis publicly disputed key elements of Runyan's letter going off the film. They argued it shows Burfict clearly hitting Sherman in the chest and not from the side or the back and with his shoulder and not his head. They also argue that Sherman wasn't out of the play as a check-down option for quarterback Alex Smith, who still had the ball in his hand as Burfict went to make the play.
"Particularly on the same parallel line as the fullback and the tight end are," Lewis said. "The quarterback sets his feet and pumps to the fullback. They're on the same parallel line. Sometimes in the interpretation things get lost.
"All that would seem to make sense," Lewis said of the ball still in Smith's hand. "Everybody who understands how linebackers and secondary people play football, it all makes sense."
On Wednesday, Burfict and the club had no comment.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Indiana to take on the Indianapolis Colts week 4 of the preseason.