Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict told ESPN's Josina Anderson in an interview Monday that he needs to change his style of play, but he probably would not have been flagged for his hit to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the wild-card round if his reputation hadn't preceded him.
"Like I told coach [Marvin Lewis], I wish I could take that play back because I probably would've hit him low," Burfict said in his first public comments about the incident. "I don't like hitting low, but I have to change because it's getting flags because I hit him high or hit him in the helmet, and it's so hard to determine where to hit the offender because they're gonna tuck their body, and you have to pretty much tuck with them."
Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season for repeated violations of player-safety rules, with the league citing his hit on Brown as the tipping point. Burfict hit Brown after Brown couldn't catch a high pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 22 seconds remaining in an AFC wild-card game. Burfict received an unnecessary roughness penalty, and Brown suffered a concussion on the play. Brown did not play the following week in Pittsburgh's AFC divisional-round loss to the Denver Broncos.
The suspension was upheld earlier this month following an appeal, sources told ESPN.
Burfict told Anderson that he takes responsibility for the hit, which was part of the ugly ending that resulted in Cincinnati's exit from the playoffs.
"I tried to pull up at the last second, but it was obviously too late -- it's a bang-bang play," Burfict said.
The linebacker acknowledged that he has developed a negative reputation around the league, and he said that has an effect on how penalties are called.
"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," he said. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it, and that play right there, I think if I wasn't number 55, I wouldn't have got flagged."
Burfict has been flagged for personal foul penalties 16 times in the regular season and postseason since he entered the league in 2012. He was the most heavily fined player in the chippy Dec. 13 meeting between the Bengals and Steelers. Seven players from the teams drew fines amounting to nearly $140,000, but Burfict had to pay nearly half of that in his three fines for three incidents in the game.
Sources previously told ESPN that Burfict met earlier this month with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid disciplinary action in the future. Burfict, his agents and Lewis were at the meeting with Goodell and NFL executive VP Troy Vincent.
Despite his streak of penalties, Burfict remains one of Cincinnati's top defensive players. He recorded 74 tackles, one sack and two interceptions in 10 games the past season.