To hear Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster talk on Friday, he’s not overly worried about Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict attempting to pay him back for the vicious block and subsequent taunting he received last December from the then-rookie when the two teams met in Cincinnati.
“I’m just worried about the game and just playing focused and playing with my teammates and just going out there and coming out with a victory,” Smith-Schuster said Friday when asked about him possibly receiving some retaliation on Sunday from Burfict, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Not only did that block by Smith-Schuster on Burfict in the fourth quarter of last season’s Week 13 game knock the linebacker out of the remainder of the contest with a concussion, the player who is perhaps deemed the league’s dirtiest one wound up missing three of the Bengals final four contest to close out the season due mainly to concussion-like symptoms.
On top of Burfict missing a lot of time to close out the 2017 season due to the hit he took from Smith-Schuster, the Bengals linebacker appealed to the league this past offseason that the four-game suspension he had received for the start of this season for him violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy was a direct result of him being prescribed medication for the concussion he suffered at the hands of the Steelers wide receiver.
Burfict obviously lost that suspension appeal and thus missed the Bengals first four games of this season and thus in a roundabout way he probably blames Smith-Schuster for him missing 7 of his team’s last 9 games.
So, is Smith-Schuster going to be watching his back closely this coming Sunday?
“No, I am thinking I am fine – (and) I think my guys have got my back,” the Steelers second-year wide receiver said on Friday.
For what it’s worth, Bengals beat writer Paul Dehner Jr., who covers the team for the Cincinnati Enquirer, told David Todd and me during the Friday edition of The Terrible Podcast that it wouldn’t surprise him one bit if Burfict somehow attempts to exact some sort of revenge against Smith-Schuster at some point during Sunday’s game.
“Of course, of course, it’s Bengals-Steelers,” Dehner said when we asked him if he expects any nonsense to take place during Sunday’s game in Cincinnati. “How could there not be nonsense? Look, Vontaze Burfict took what happened last year personal with JuJu Smith-Schuster. And the celebration that JuJu did, essentially where it was mocking the concussion that they gave to Vontaze Burfict, did not sit well here [in Cincinnati]. It did not sit well with No. 55 and I think that he’s going to be looking for No. 19 on Sunday.
“And I think that’s going to be something important to track. If he can contain it to keeping it to something legal between the lines, all is fair in football. If it goes beyond that, it would just be another case of putting your personal garbage above your team and I think that’s going to be the interesting thing to watch to see how Vontaze Burfict handles the way he feels about JuJu Smith-Schuster out there.”
Smith-Schuster let it be known on Friday that the 15-yard penalty and subsequent one-game suspension he received for his hit on Burfict hasn’t made him change the way he plays the game one bit.
“I never change for nobody,” he said. “I just play this game.”
What might ultimately be unfortunate for Smith-Schuster on Sunday in Cincinnati is that Burfict is unlikely to change the way he plays the game, which is dirty, full of malice and bad intentions.