Prior to Saturday night’s game between the Steelers and Bengals, it wasn’t publicly known that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict had drawn a $50,000 for an illegal hit on Ravens tight end Maxx Williams during a Week 17 game. Privately, however, Burfict knew. And the Bengals surely knew.
But Burfict nevertheless was out of control again only six days later, giving Ben Roethlisberger the business after a sack that injured his shoulder and taking a shot at the head of receiver Antonio Brown, at a time when Burfict knew or should have known that the football had flown by Brown incomplete.
The announcement regarding Burfict’s three-game suspension doesn’t mention the apparent cheap shot on Roethlisberger, focusing instead on the hit on Brown. Regardless, the magnitude of the previously-unknown fine shows just how important it was for the Bengals to control Burfict.
Apart from the loss of field position that comes with a 15-yard penalty, it’s now clear that Burfict was on deck for a suspension.
The real question is whether the NFL would have imposed the suspension if the Bengals had won the game. Given Burfict’s history, he could have been suspended for the wild-card game, but the league opted not to try to make a suspension for a playoff game stick. (Last year, the league tried to impose a one-game suspension for a playoff game on Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh; the suspension was overturned on appeal.)
Coach Marvin Lewis came under fire for the Burfict-and-Pacman dumb-and-dumber maneuver that handed the Steelers a playoff win. The fact that the Bengals knew Burfict was one illegal play away from a suspension makes the whole thing even dumberer.
If owner Mike Brown didn’t know that Burfict had been fined $50,000 for his Week 17 antics, could that change his reported inclination to keep Lewis in place for a 14th season? In theory, yes. As a practical matter, however, Brown realizes what Lewis has accomplished over the last 13 years, taking one of the most downtrodden franchises in the league to seven playoff appearances, including a whopping five in a row.