CINCINNATI — Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the first three games of next season as the NFL began handing down punishments on Monday for an ugly wild-card playoff game.
The league also is reviewing the conduct of other players and coaches during Pittsburgh’s 18-16 victory at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night that turned on penalties against Burfict and Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones in the final minute.
Burfict was penalized for lowering his shoulder and hitting defenceless receiver Antonio Brown in the head after an incompletion with 22 seconds left and the Bengals holding a 16-15 lead. Brown got a concussion from the play.
Burfict had already been fined four times for dangerous plays during the season. He got a $50,000 fine for an illegal hit on a Ravens player a week earlier. Burfict also was fined $69,454 for three penalties against the Steelers on Dec. 13: roughing the passer, grabbing the facemask and unnecessary roughness.
Merton Hanks, the league’s vice-president of football operations, said the hit on Brown during the playoff game "placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided."
While players and coaches from both teams were on the field as Brown was getting examined, Jones went after Steelers coach Joey Porter and got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The two penalties moved the ball from the Cincinnati 47-yard line to the 17, and Chris Boswell made a 35-yard kick for the win.
More punishments are expected from the game, which was marred by numerous altercations between players.
Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak got a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after he grabbed safety Reggie Nelson’s hair on the sideline following a play.
Before the suspension was announced on Monday night, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said that Burfict didn’t "go over the edge" with his hit against Brown.
Although the linebacker has been penalized and fined repeatedly, Lewis said he’s been depicted unfairly for his play.
"It didn’t go over the edge," Lewis said. "But unfortunately, he can’t have that kind of blow with the guy that’s receiving the pass. But it didn’t go over the edge for the course of the season.
"Let’s not take things out of context, and understand it. Let’s judge the body of work."
The NFL decided his penalties over the course of a season merited the suspension, which can be appealed.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who spent one season in Cincinnati with his locker next to Burfict’s, said in Pittsburgh that Burfict is always pushing the line of what’s accepted.
"There’s times when he’s out of control, and there’s times he’s out of control, but he’s calculated with it," Harrison said. "It’s a fine line."