It was two plays into Sunday’s game when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict placed himself in the middle of another controversy during the Bengals/Steelers “rivalry”. With 14:11 remaining in the first quarter, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell patiently followed Roosevelt Nix around the right edge, picking up three yards on a play that was otherwise, pretty insignificant.
By the end of the play, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was spotted kicking Nix in the helmet.
If you extend the review beyond the media’s abbreviated attempt to demonize Burfict by excluding any interactions preceding “the kick”, you’ll note that Nix continued shoving Burfict after Bell was tackled, the whistle was sounded, and the play had concluded. Let me simply that: Bell is tackled, whistle is blown, Nix aggressively shoves Burfict, who then reacts.
No penalty was called — line judge Mark Perlman was the closest official. Per ESPN:
“The ref said he didn’t see it. So, just keep on playing,” Nix said. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell expressed his displeasure on the play. “My fullback got kicked in the face. That’s just not football to me. I don’t think that’s a respectable play,” Bell said.
Bell added more via twitter:
man dude gotta go man…that’s not football AT ALL!! https://t.co/IFbNZPZtWR
— Le’Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) October 23, 2017
The lack of a handshake during the pregame coin toss, something that’s not traditionally aired, was confirmed by others.
Let me preface this by saying kicking someone in the face, especially if you’re Vontaze Burfict, is a bad idea. Burfict should know by now that he’s a targeted man, having already come off a three-game suspension earlier this year for an unprovoked hit on Anthony Sherman that also cost him $1.4 million. Including the well-known hit on Antonio Brown, Burfict has been suspended twice (for three games each) and fined $2,187,018. Yes, there’s clearly a target on Burfict by officials and the league office, and to be blunt, he’s earned it.
Cincinnati’s “rivalry” against the Steelers is tense. Tony Romo offered a quick commentary that the rivalry could be broken down to one man… Burfict. And he’s not wrong. When most major events occur during this rivalry, intentionally or not, Burfict is involved. Could Cincinnati’s linebacker be worried about repercussions from Nix during the tackle against Bell? Who knows.
However, while we don’t condone the act, we’d like to offer a fuller explanation that Burfict was clearly reacting to someone that continued engagement after the whistle, rather than a malicious attempt to take out a Steelers player. Regardless, the league is expected to review the play and could punish Burfict for this act.