Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the absolute, unquestionably, without a doubt in my mind dirtiest player in the game. Sure you could point to a handful of others, but I'll contest that those players at worst were purposefully trying to take an opponent out of that particular series or game. What Burfict did Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers in my eyes was put another human being's life at risk.
In case you are not up to speed on the particular play, you can check out Burfict's personal foul to help give the Steelers the playoff victory, or just watch the video included below.
Vontaze Burfict penalty for this hit on Brown putting the Steelers in field goal range. pic.twitter.com/nO2Z4likk1— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 10, 2016
This was an intentional, concentrated effort by Burfict to hit Antonio Brown in the head as hard as he possibly could. With the ball nowhere near catchable and Burfict's head and eyes never wavering from their spot, it was clear that Burfict was going for the hit instead of any meaningful football play. Given the way he put his shoulder into Brown's head, there is no way that anyone can defend these actions as a "part of the game," or as an unintentional accident when going to make a play.
If even more evidence is needed, just take how hot Burfict was after the hit on his teammate Giovani Bernard by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. The hit was legal, but did knock Bernard out cold and out of the game. It was a vicious hit and in an already chippy matchup, it caused tempers to flare, Burfict being the one most outwardly affected by it.
Several times during the broadcast, announcers Phil Simms and Jim Nantz pointed out how impacted the Bengals linebacker was. They noted that he had to be calmed down by his coaches and by the officials on the field. At one point, the officials took Burfict to the side to have a one-on-one with him and likely inform him that keeping it up would result in a flag or ejection.
With such a hot head and the body language present during the hit on Antonio Brown, it's beyond easy to put together the puzzle and see that Burfict was going for the "knockout blow" on Brown. You can see Burfict practically screaming that this was payback.
Yet, while the hit on Bernard was vicious, the one on Brown was down right criminal. With the Steelers' wide receiver's head out in front, the hit was completely disconnected from his body, taking the full force to the neck. You can see his head snap to the side as his body crumples, a scary thought given the nature of the hit could easily impact the spine.
To me, that hit had the ability to paralyze or kill Antonio Brown. We've all seen far simpler hits do it, but that just looks like what you'd expect a paralyzed football player to show you as the final hit to put him in a wheelchair for life. Given the intent of the hit to injure Brown and the potential of that hit in particular, I can't help but to see it as a straight up act to maim. If there was ever a reason to ban a player, a hit with intent to maim another player sounds like the type that would deserve it.
So let's just say I'm overreacting because it's minutes after the game and I'm still hot about it. You might even be arguing that unlike guys like Ndamukong Suh, Burfict doesn't have that tag to him as a dirty player and this could all simply be a misunderstanding.
Clear intent to injure another player through twisting of the ankle.
How could this hit by Vontaze Burfict not be a penalty. Watch this cheap shot as he targets Ben's ankle pic.twitter.com/O4ZcT1FC5m— Charlie Batch (@CharlieBatch16) December 13, 2015
A clear low shot at the ankles and knees of an opposing quarterback with intent to injure. No one touched him in the process, it was done solely on his own.
Notice the obvious twist of the ankle afterwards and him pulling back on it to stretch out the ligaments and tendons with yet another desire to hurt a fellow player. Here is a closer frame by frame look at it for a better look at how nasty it is.
The hit that took out Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. While the hit itself wasn't dirty, you can clearly see everyone else around knows Bell is seriously hurt, yet Burfict gets up an celebrates. He might not have intended to hurt Bell, but he was happy about the injury.
And these are only the more egregious examples. There are numerous others where he clearly spears the offensive player with the crown of his helmet or goes for a headshot where I just can't get a good camera view of it to show you.
Ravens fans will remember Burfict's hit on quarterback Joe Flacco where the linebacker pointed his head straight down and ran it into Flacco's crotch. No attempt to tackle using the shoulder at all and it resulted in Burfict missing games due to a concussion. As Greg Olsen had pointed out, "His style of play is what it is. It's why he knocks himself out half the time."
The fact that these are four pretty cut and dry examples of a player maliciously looking to injure another player in just the four seasons Burfict has been in the league should concern everyone. With Burfict only starting 45 games in his career, it's an average of once every 11 games he blatantly goes out there and gets caught trying to hurt someone. Now adding yet another, and this one being in the head and neck area, which the NFL has so proudly stated that they are trying hard to especially protect, has got to be the last straw.
If the league does not throw the book at Burfict, it is giving other players free reign to look to make big plays through injuring other players rather than play the game in the confines of the rule book. If it does not make an example out of the dirtiest player in the league all the posturing about "boutygate," hits to the head, and concussions will clearly be a public relations move. A PR move that will backfire, giving former and potentially even current NFL players a huge example of the league only making a move when it feels like there is money to lose.
As a former amateur football player that is currently getting evaluated by neurologists because I am seeing some of the same CTE signs so prevalent in current and former professional football players, I have this to say to the league:
If you do not make a push to punish Burfict to the full extent of their rule books and even the full extent that the law will allow, they are nothing more than the typical American "big business" that only looks out for profits at the expense of their employees
And this to Vontaze Burfict:
You are a wretched human being that needs to reevaluate your life and get the help you need mentally. Not only are you perpetuating debilitating injures and disease on your fellow players, the amount of concussions you have had is shortening the life you have left with your own family and friends. If not for the health of those around you, do it for your own health before you end up like so many of the former football players behind you... a bullet hole in your heart so doctors can study your brain.