Vontaze Burfict celebrating Sunday's pick-six in Washington. The NFL dealt the Bengals' Camp Tranquility a major jolt of adversity when they informed WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict last week he's suspended for the first five games of the season for a hit on a defenseless receiver in last Saturday night's pre-season game against the Chiefs.
Burfict confirmed after the Bengals landed in Cincinnati after Sunday's game in Washington his appeal is going to be heard Tuesday and he's confident it will be reduced. Apparently the appeal takes place via conference call.
"I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best," Burfict said. "I feel like I've let down my teammates, but I also feel like I've done a good job with this. I only had one personal foul last year. We feel like this was a legal hit. I hit him in the shoulder. I hit hard, so it may have looked like I hit him in the head, but it was the shoulder. I helped him up and he said he was good and I asked if he was good on the next series and he said, 'Yeah, that was a legal hit.'"
Burfict had two penalties last season, according to the NFL, and one was an unnecessary roughness call in Week 15.
The Bengals responded with a statement saying they believe the hit was legal and pledge to help him appeal it.
Burfict, who also began last season on suspension for violating safety rules, again ran afoul of the league when it disciplined him for hitting Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman midway through the first quarter of the loss to the Chiefs.
"The Bengals are aware of the NFL's letter to Vontaze regarding a play in last weekend's game," the Bengals said in a statement released after they got home Sunday. . "The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process."
The Bengals and Burfict argue it was a shoulder-to-chest hit to the front of the target as Sherman ran a pass route out of the backfield barely a yard from the line of scrimmage, but the NFL seems to believe the hit was high enough to be disciplined and that it came away from the play. Since the play was Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith's 36-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce down the middle of the field, no one appeared to notice Burfict's hit on Sherman at the time and it wasn't flagged.
"The rules say you can eliminate a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage as long as you don't hit him in the head and I don't think I hit him in the head," Burfict said.
It's a devastating blow for both Burfict and the Bengals during a preseason they began discussing a possible extension for a contract that runs out after this year. The Bengals are coming off a season they lost their best player, six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, for the last seven games of 2016. Now they're looking at the first five games of 2017 without their defensive A.J. Green. His prowess was on display with a 62-yard pick-six in Sunday's 23-17 pre-season loss in Washington that showed off the instincts his coaches and mates love.
Burfict and his coaches have acknowledged he looks like he's back to his 2013 form, when he went to the Pro Bowl and led the league in tackles before he suffered an injury in 2014 that required micro fracture surgery.
Since then he's appeared in just 26 of a possible 48 games and is going to miss his third straight Opening Day. He was suspended for the first three games of last season, largely stemming from the next-to-last play of the 2015 Wild Card Game against the Steelers in which his concussion-inducing hit over the middle on wide receiver Antonio Brown was flagged as dangerous and helped the Steelers hit a walk-off field goal.
The leading candidates to replace Burfict are veteran linebacker Vincent Rey and impressive rookie Jordan Evans, a sixth rounder out of Oklahoma. Rey started for Burfict to open the 2015 season when his knee injury took him out of the first six games and the three games of last season's suspension. Rey has 37 career starts and is a reason why the Bengals have gone 15-7 in the games Burfict has missed.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Washington Redskins in week 3 of the preseason.