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Bengals' Vontaze Burfict facing 5-game suspension

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On Sunday, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown before hopping into the stands and waving his arms in the air.

It could be a fond memory that will have to last Bengals fans for a few weeks.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday night that Burfict is facing a five-game suspension for a hit he laid on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman back on Aug. 19. Video of the play in question appears to show Burfict, with 7:58 remaining in the first quarter, unloading on an unsuspecting Sherman after Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith releases a pass headed for tight end Travis Kelce way downfield.

Sherman crept out of the backfield as an eligible receiver, but was not close to being Smith's intended target.

ESPN first reported the development. Rapoport reported Burfict intends to appeal the ruling. After the Bengals returned to Cincinnati on Sunday night, Burfict said his appeal is scheduled to be heard Tuesday, apparently via conference call. Rapoport reported the appeals hearing will indeed begin Tuesday.

"I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best," Burfict told the team's official website. "I feel like I've let down my teammates, but I also feel like I've done a good job with this. I only had one personal foul last year. We feel like this was a legal hit. I hit him in the shoulder. I hit hard, so it may have looked like I hit him in the head, but it was the shoulder. I helped him up and he said he was good and I asked if he was good on the next series and he said, 'Yeah, that was a legal hit.'

"The rules say you can eliminate a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage as long as you don't hit him in the head and I don't think I hit him in the head."

The team released this statement Sunday night:

"The Bengals are aware of the NFL's letter to Vontaze regarding a play in last weekend's game. The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process."

With the Bengals already missing cornerback Adam Jones due to a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, this is a blow the defense simply cannot sustain. Burfict lost the first three games of the 2016 season after the league penalized him for multiple hard hits, culminating in the highly-publicized collision with Antonio Brown in the playoffs last year. Burfict has become synonymous with these monster shots, which have cost him hundreds of thousands in fines over the years.

As Rapoport noted, Burfict is considered a repeat offender, which will not help plays like the one from last Saturday fly under the radar. It will also not help the Bengals, who watched longtime defensive stalwart Rey Maualuga sign with the Miami Dolphins last week. Cincinnati drafted a pair of linebackers -- Carl Lawson in the fourth round and Jordan Evans in the sixth -- who could be in line for a bigger role over the coming months. Lawson had a sack in Sunday's loss to the Redskins.

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