By JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — The NFL has suspended Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for five games because he leveled a Chiefs running back in a preseason game, the latest in his history of egregious hits.
Burfict hit running back Anthony Sherman in the chest during a pass play in which he was not the intended receiver, knocking him to the ground. The NFL has been cracking down on such hits as part of its emphasis on player safety.
Burfict previously was suspended for egregious hits. His hit to Antonio Brown’s head on an incomplete pass drew a personal foul and set up Pittsburgh’s last-minute field goal for an 18-16 win in the first round of the 2015 playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium. The league cited Burfict’s history of illegal hits in suspending him for the first three games of the 2016 season.
The Bengals were off on Monday after returning from a preseason game in Washington. They released a statement defending Burfict.
“The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest,” the statement said.
The Bengals will open the season with Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones suspended. The league suspended Jones one game for his latest arrest and misdemeanor conviction in the offseason.
Jones also got a personal foul during the Bengals’ playoff meltdown against Pittsburgh, helping the Steelers to rally in the closing seconds. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990, the sixth longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history.
Bengals owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis have staunchly defending Burfict during his six seasons in Cincinnati, even as his fines and suspensions have piled up. The team said in its statement that it will support Burfict through his appeals process for the latest penalty.
Burfict had an interception return for a touchdown during Cincinnati’s 23-17 preseason loss at Washington on Sunday. He picked off Kirk Cousins’ pass and stiff-armed the quarterback to get into the end zone, then jumped into the stands.
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