Coming out of Saturday night's epic meltdown against the Steelers, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on Monday stuck up for the play of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones.
Burfict was suspended the first three games of the 2016 season by the NFL on Monday for "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules" after his hit on Antonio Brown in the closing seconds of Bengals' 18-16 wild-card loss resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty. Jones drew a personal-foul call after getting into a confrontation with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter a short time later.
"Both players couldn't be more heartbroken, literally to tears, both of them, about what went on," said Lewis, who was speaking to reporters before Burfict's suspension was announced. "That's the first step, you know what I mean? To realize, 'You know what? I'm wrong. And it's unfortunate.'
Burfict, whose hit on Brown left the Steelers receiver concussed, is appealing his three-game suspension. Lewis doesn't believe Burfict went too far with his hit.
"It didn't go over the edge," Lewis said of Burfict's hit. "Unfortunately, he can't have that kind of blow with a guy that's receiving a pass. It didn't go over the edge."
Emphasized Lewis: "I don't think it's over the line, I think it's part of what football is now. And you have to learn to play within the scope of what football is right now."
Burfict is known league-wide as a titanic hitter who, in the eyes of many, has crossed the line multiple times. Lewis asked reporters to consider the linebacker's entire body of work.
"He's had three penalties ... for (unnecessary roughness)," Lewis said. "One, the guy pushed him back, was told, 'You know what, we probably missed it. He was not the initiator.' And he pushed a guy from St. Louis in the back on a screen play, you know, right there at the ball. Again, so ... let's understand it and let's judge the body of work."
Reflecting on a playoff tilt that took on a grim and violent tone near the end, Lewis said of his team: "We walked away a bunch. But we have to continue to walk away."
Lewis was criticized by some of his own players after the game for allowing the contest to get out of hand, but he argued that "once they go across that line, there's not much I can do from there, unless I go out on the field, which I'm not allowed to."
Said Lewis: "Unfortunately, I think sometimes we earn some reputations and we got to eliminate that by continuing to play well within the rules."