Sus­pen­sion for Bengals LB Bur­fict re­duced to 3 games

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - By Joe Kay

Bengals line­backer Von­taze Bur­fict had his NFL sus­pen­sion re­duced from five to three games Wed­nes­day for his egre­gious hit on a Chiefs run­ning back dur­ing a pre­sea­son game.

Dur­ing the sec­ond pre­sea­son game, Bur­fict lev­eled run­ning back An­thony Sher­man on a pass play when he wasn’t the in­tended tar­get. The play wasn’t pe­nal­ized, but the league can im­pose fines or sus­pen­sions after re­view­ing plays.

Bur­fict orig­i­nally got a five-game sus­pen­sion but chal­lenged it. Ap­peals of­fi­cer James Thrash re­duced it to three games on Wed­nes­day. Bur­fict will miss home games against the Ravens and Tex­ans and a road game with the Packers. He’ll be el­i­gi­ble to re­turn for a game in Cleve­land on Oct. 1.

It’s the sec­ond straight season he’s sus­pended for the first three games. He was pun­ished last season for his hit to An­to­nio Brown’s head dur­ing a 2015 play­off loss to the Steel­ers. That pun­ish­ment was due in part to his his­tory of egre­gious hits.

Bur­fict’s hit on Brown moved the Steel­ers in range for a last-minute field goal and an 18-16 vic­tory in the open­ing round of the play­offs. The melt­down left the Bengals with­out a play­off vic­tory since 1990, the sixth-long­est streak of fu­til­ity in NFL his­tory.

In a let­ter to Bur­fict no­ti­fy­ing him of the lat­est three-game penalty, the league noted his pat­tern of hits on de­fense­less play­ers, in­clud­ing one on Ravens tight end Maxx Wil­liams that drew a $50,000 fine.

“This is not your first of­fense with re­spect to il­le­gal hits to de­fense­less play­ers,” wrote Jon Run­yan, the league’s vice pres­i­dent of foot­ball op­er­a­tions. “To the con­trary, this in­ci­dent is con­sis­tent with your pat­tern of egre­gious safety-re­lated vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing your hit on a de­fense­less player dur­ing the 2015 wild­card game and your hit against a Baltimore tight end away from the play on Jan. 3, 2016.

“When play­ers vi­o­late the rules in­tended to pro­tect player safety on a re­peated ba­sis, and par­tic­u­larly when the vi­o­la­tions carry with them a sig­nif­i­cant risk of in­jury to an op­pos­ing player ... you must be held ac­count­able for this con­tin­u­ing un­ac­cept­able con­duct.”

The Bengals have staunchly de­fended Bur­fict. They sup­ported his ap­peal of the sus­pen­sion, con­tend­ing his hit on Sher­man wasn’t a tech­ni­cal vi­o­la­tion of the league’s player safety rules. In re­sponse, the league cited its rules ban­ning un­nec­es­sary con­tact against de­fense­less play­ers and those who aren’t in­volved in the flow of the play.

Sher­man was com­ing out of the back­field on a throw down the field to a dif­fer­ent player when Bur­fict low­ered his shoul­der and lev­eled him.

In de­fend­ing Bur­fict on Tues­day, coach Marvin Lewis said the line­backer has changed. Lewis cited sev­eral other plays in the same pre­sea­son game when Bur­fict fol­lowed the rules.

“On the very next play, the quar­ter­back scram­bles, Von­taze runs over and jumps over Alex Smith when he slides,” Lewis said. “The very next play after that, the back goes to the flat and he’s go­ing down for a first down. Von­taze is in cov­er­age and in­stead of div­ing in or ‘spear­ing’ in, he touches him down and jumps over him out of bounds.”

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