CINCINNATI -- Any time a person can take ownership of his actions and publicly admit he may have been wrong, that person should be applauded.
Vontaze Burfict deserves a few hand claps this week.
It was refreshing to finally hear the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker go on record late Monday and discuss the chaotic, penalty-filled play that led in part to his team's collapse in the final seconds of last month's playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A hit with his shoulder to the helmet of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown drew a personal foul penalty and gave Brown a concussion that kept him out of Pittsburgh's playoff game the following week in Denver.
It was while Brown was being helped off the field by trainers that Bengals cornerback Adam Jones drew his own 15-yard flag for making contact with an official while trying to go after Steelers assistant Joey Porter. The 30 yards of penalties pushed Pittsburgh into range for a winning 35-yard field goal, after the elusive postseason victory the Bengals have chased the past 25 years was virtually within their grasp.
Since that loss, Burfict has thought often about his actions. He told ESPN's Josina Anderson in Monday's interview that he wished he could take back the hit on Brown "because I probably would've hit him low."
What he said next was most significant.
"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," Burfict added. He also pointed out that in bang-bang scenarios like the hit on Brown -- which came a split second after a pass sailed incomplete over Brown's head -- it can be hard for defenders to determine where legally to hit an offensive player because of they sometimes tuck their bodies, as happened in this instance.
Still, Burfict recognizes, much like the league has recognized, that changes to the way he plays must come. In 50 regular-season and postseason games since entering the league in 2012, Burfict has drawn 16 personal foul penalties. Clearly his style of play has adversely affected his team. Cincinnati will be without its star linebacker for three games at the start of next season because he was suspended. The NFL had already been paying closer attention to Burfict before the hit on Brown in a nationally televised game.
When Burfict's suspension was originally announced last month, he was essentially being told, "Clean up or else."
"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," Burfict told Anderson. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it."
Pause it right there. Again, he used the word "change." And again, he says change must come from him.
When Burfict returns in late September, he will finally be able to show the changes he has made. For now, though, give him credit for recognizing they must come.