Ben­gals pay for char­ac­ter of play­ers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY TIM DAHLBERG THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Von­taze Bur­fict was hav­ing the game of his life when he ran into the bow­els of Paul Brown Sta­dium with what ap­peared to be a clinch­ing in­ter­cep­tion, trailed by Adam (Pac­man) Jones and sev­eral team­mates ea­ger to cel­e­brate.

Had Bur­fict and Jones only stayed there, the Cincin­nati Ben­gals might still be play­ing next week.

That irony will prob­a­bly not be lost on Ben­gals fans as they cope with yet an­other play­off melt­down, this one un­like any other. They’ll spend a mis­er­able off-sea­son won­der­ing what might have been had Bur­fict and Jones ex­hib­ited just a mod­icum of self-con­trol in the fi­nal sec­onds against a Pitts­burgh team with a quar­ter­back who could barely lift his right arm.

It hap­pened at the worst time and on the big­gest stage. But no one can say the Ben­gals didn’t see it com­ing.

A team that gam­bled on a pair of play­ers with well-known is­sues got beat pre­cisely be­cause of those is­sues. Bur­fict went head hunt­ing, Jones went af­ter Steel­ers as­sis­tant Joey Porter, and the Ben­gals went off into the rainy night as losers once again.

Blame owner Mike Brown and team man­age­ment for tak­ing a chance on volatile play­ers no one else would touch. Blame coach Marvin Lewis for not con­trol­ling them at the most crit­i­cal time in the game.

Do, how­ever, give them credit for this: At a time the NFL says it is try­ing to cut down on cheap shots and head in­juries, they helped show how lit­tle has re­ally changed in the league.

Heads are still be­ing hunted. De­fence­less play­ers are still be­ing knocked silly.

And all the fines and sus­pen­sions – Bur­fict will al­most surely get one to start next sea­son – are sim­ply ac­cepted as a cost of do­ing busi­ness.

Just last month, Bur­fict got in­volved in a pre-game al­ter­ation with Steel­ers play­ers and was fined $69,454 by the league for three dif­fer­ent plays in the game. Yet the linebacker who is the star of the Ben­gals de­fence was still al­lowed to spiral out of con­trol when the teams met once again.

Ugly isn’t the word for how this one played out in prime time on a Satur­day night. From fans throw­ing garbage at an in­jured Ben Roeth­lis­berger to the bru­tal hit by Bur­fict that spun An­to­nio Brown’s head around in a fright­en­ing mo­ment, the rough edges of the NFL were on dis­play.

“A vi­cious, vi­o­lent game,” said CBS an­nouncer Jim Nantz, nor­mally an apol­o­gist for any sport he cov­ers.

“What a dis­grace, an em­bar­rass­ment,” for­mer Ben­gals quar­ter­back Boomer Esi­a­son tweeted.

In­deed, this was much like the NFL of old, where ev­ery­thing goes and only the strong­est sur­vive to play again the next week. Two teams that de­spise each other in a game de­cided by two per­sonal foul penal­ties – there were seven to­tal in the game – on the same play.

The Steel­ers aren’t ex­actly in­no­cent vic­tims them­selves. Ryan Shazier crum­pled Gio­vanni Bernard with a hit that looked to be ini­ti­ated by Shazier’s hel­met. Shazier wasn’t pe­nal­ized, and the Steel­ers re­cov­ered Bernard’s fum­ble. That hit seemed to turn up the anger of the Ben­gals. Jones com­plained Porter – known for some big hits of his own as a player – was on the field il­le­gally when Jones was pe­nal­ized.

There’s not any­thing wrong with good, hard foot­ball. In this case, though, there wasn’t a lot of good on the field.

This could have been re­mem­bered as a game where A.J. McCar­ron made his mark by lead­ing the Ben­gals to the goa­head touch­down in only his fourth NFL start. It could have been a game made mem­o­rable by Roeth­lis­berger hero­ically com­ing back from be­ing knocked out of the game by Bur­fict to rally his team de­spite hardly be­ing able to throw.

In­stead, it will be re­mem­bered for all the wrong rea­sons.

That’s on the Ben­gals, who can’t seem to help them­selves when it comes to sign­ing play­ers who come with bag­gage. It cer­tainly in­cludes Jones, who was sus­pended for a year by NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell for his role in a 2007 shoot­ing at a Las Ve­gas strip club that left a bouncer par­a­lyzed.

And it in­cludes Bur­fict, an im­mensely tal­ented middle linebacker who went un­drafted out of Ari­zona State (ASU) be­cause of emo­tional con­trol is­sues. Bur­fict was flagged 22 times for un­sports­man­like penal­ties in 37 games at ASU, and was benched in his fi­nal bowl game.

The Ben­gals signed both play­ers not just be­cause they were des­per­ate to win a play­off game – Cincin­nati is 0-7 un­der Lewis in the play­offs – but be­cause they thought their tal­ent was worth the cal­cu­lated risk. For the last sev­eral years, it has worked, as both have been valu­able mem­bers of a good de­fence.

All the way up to the fi­nal sec­onds of the play­off game against the Steel­ers.

And once again, the Ben­gals are pay­ing the price.

AP PHOTO

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger, right, is sacked by Cincin­nati Ben­gals lineback­ers Von­taze Bur­fict Satur­day in Cincin­nati.

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