Jim Owczarski, email@example.com
January 10, 2016
National reaction from former players and coaches on the final offensive play of the game Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals was swift and unrelenting – especially on Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown – and an ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on corner Adam Jones – allowing the Steelers to advance 30 yards and kick the eventual game-winning field goal in the 18-16 wildcard victory for the Steelers.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, former Bengals MVP quarterback Boomer Esiason was the first to lambast his former team.
“This was a disgraceful performance by the Cincinnati Bengals, an ugly performance by one Vontaze Burfict who should not only be fined but should be suspended for a significant amount of time,” Esiason said over highlights from the final drive. “The guy’s a danger on the field to opposing football players. Adam Jones right there, he gets into it. Another penalty. This leads to this easy field goal kick for Boswell.
“But I have to tell you right now – I’m a former Bengal – I’m embarrassed by the way this game ended, by the way these guys acted on the field today. I feel bad for Marvin Lewis. And I’ll tell you one thing, if Marvin Lewis can’t control those players, then maybe Marvin Lewis shouldn’t be standing on the sidelines coaching that dreck.”
Fellow analyst and former Steelers Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Lewis.
“And I need to say this: when you’re talking about this game, we saw this with Odell Beckham and Josh Norman, right now that responsibility – I take it away from the officials – that is the head coach,” Cowher said. “They get to a line and they cross it, they should no longer be in the game because they can become a detriment to your team. That was Vontaze Burfict at the end of the game. He lost this game and that goes on the head coach in my opinion."
To that point in the game however, Burfict had not been called for an accepted penalty in 73 previous plays and had recorded six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, forced a fumble and came up with an interception.
The only flag thrown on the linebacker was in the first quarter for a hold, which was declined.
In the regular season, Burfict was called flagged six times in 10 games, tied for fifth-most on the team. Three of them were for unnecessary roughness.
NBC Sports analyst and former Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy shifted the responsibility toward the Bengals front office, however.
“I’m not going to put it all on Marvin Lewis,” Dungy said. “To me, this is an organizational decision. Cincinnati has had a history of taking these types of players. Vontaze Burfict is first-round talent, but he didn’t get drafted for a reason. There were 31 other teams that said we are going to pass on this guy. Cincinnati takes these guys over, and over, and over again. That’s probably the reason they haven’t won a playoff game in over 20 years.”
To which former Super Bowl winning safety Rodney Harrison said, “You can’t give Marvin Lewis a pass. These are the type of things that happened all year with Vontaze Burfict.”
NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, who won a Super Bowl in Baltimore with Lewis as his defensive coordinator, even acknowledged that the Bengals head coach will have much on his shoulders as the team transitions into 2016.
"He knows between now and the beginning of next season, he’s going to have to deal with something with regards to this game and the repercussions of it all the way up until the next season," Billick said. "Every single day as a head coach. That’s a lot to carry around."
The former players across the networks also took issue with Burfict’s hit to head on Brown and Jones’ subsequent penalty.
“What it is, is selfish,” said former Baltimore and New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott on the CBS postgame show. “He let his personal vendettas get in the way of the team goals. This game was won. He was a hero. He made a tremendous interception. He came back and became the goat."
Added Harrison: “I think they are two selfish players. You work all year to put yourself in a position to make a playoff run, with a backup quarterback, and you have two guys clearly acting like thugs on the football field. If I’m Marvin Lewis, if you can’t control your players, then maybe somebody else should be trying to control them.”