Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict—who is suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season—understands he needs to change the way he plays moving forward.
“I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble,” Burfict said, via ESPN. “My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it, and that play right there, I think if I wasn’t number 55, I wouldn’t have got flagged.”
Burfict is referring to the illegal hit he laid on Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown during the fourth quarter of Cincinnati’s loss in the AFC Wild Card Round. It resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, which helped set up Pittsburgh’s game-winning field goal and eventually resulted in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handing Burfict a three-game suspension to start next season.
The ban was upheld by appeals officer and former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks.
The league had to do something to alter the path of a player spiraling out of control in terms of on-the-field behavior.
According to ESPN, Burfict has 16 personal foul penalties over the last four seasons. His repeated disregard for player safety forced Goodell to act, especially after the scary hit on Brown left the Steelers All-Pro receiver with a concussion that kept him out of the AFC Divisional Round.
“I tried to pull up at the last second, but it was obviously too late — it’s a bang-bang play,” Burfict said.
An undrafted free agent out of Arizona State in 2012, Burfict has otherwise blossomed into a difference-making linebacker in Cincinnati. He signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Bengals in 2014.
Burfict’s ability to remain a game-changing player in the NFL will depend on whether he’s able to gain some control on the field and avoid the major penalties that could result in more suspensions in the future.