It was reported yesterday that Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was not fined by the league for a low hit that he put on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first quarter of the teams’ meeting this past Sunday, in which Pittsburgh prevailed by a score of 33-20.
Late in the quarter, Roethlisberger completed a 16-yard pass over the middle, but was forced to awkwardly maneuver his back foot upon release in order to avoid potentially damaging contact from both Burfict and Pat Sims.
Burfict came in on the blitz on the play, dispensing of center Cody Wallace with a bull rush and putting him on the ground. He ran past the running back before turning the corner to head for Roethlisberger, where he lunged and took the quarterback down with a hit below the knees.
After the game, Burfict defended himself by saying that he was pushed into Roethlisberger by teammate Carlos Dunlap, and you can clearly see on the tape that Dunlap does make a forward movement with his left arm on Burfict’s back as he races toward Roethlisberger.
To suggest that that glorified ‘shove’ would have propelled an otherwise unwilling linebacker with that velocity into a quarterback’s lower leg, however, is a tall tale to be sure, and Roethlisberger admirably called Burfict out for his actions, saying that he doesn’t buy his story based on the tape.
But the real story here is the fact that the league, knowing well the high profile that the incident raised, getting a write up from Pro Football Talk among other avenues, decided that the linebacker of ill repute merited no fine for his actions.
It was the second hit of the season of some high profile on Roethlisberger that drew no fine, the first coming against the Seahawks, when Michael Bennett clearly hit the quarterback in the head with his helmet while in the pocket.
The 12th-year veteran self-reported concussion symptoms following the drive on which that hit occurred and was taken out of the game, spending the early portions of the following week in the concussion protocol, though he was cleared to practice soon after.
One cannot help but wonder what it takes for a defender to actually draw some type of discipline for the way in which they hit Roethlisberger. The two-time Super Bowl champion has borne a reputation of being difficult to bring down due to his size and toughness since his rookie season.
No doubt that affects the way that officials call the games, and we know that officials call plays differently based on the players involved, after Cam Newton was reportedly told earlier this year that he was not old enough to get a certain call.
That the head of officiating could possibly administer fines based on reputation with all of the available video evidence in the world, however, is an utterly baffling notion, and yet we seem to have multiple instances to support that argument.
Back in 2010, Haloti Ngata was fined $10,000 for clubbing Roethlisberger with his arm through the facemask, shattering his nose, which required plastic surgery to repair. Is this the threshold that must be breached in order to draw discipline? Must we cross the Ngata Line before we see the Steelers quarterback adequately and equitably protected?