CINCINNATI -- Once again, Vontaze Burfict's reputation has affected the long-tenuous perception about him.
And just like the many occasions in the past, he isn't doing himself any favors this time.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the NFL will review allegations from the Carolina Panthers that Burfict, the Cincinnati Bengals' formerly undrafted, third-year Pro Bowl linebacker, deliberately twisted the ankles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen during Sunday's 37-37 tie at Paul Brown Stadium. The alleged twisting of Newton's ankle has been perhaps the most alarming of the incidents in question, considering the former No. 1 overall draft pick was just starting to get comfortable running again following offseason ankle surgery.
In the 24 hours since Olsen called for the NFL to suspend the Bengals linebacker, the question has become a popular one in NFL circles: Is Burfict a dirty player?
Those around Burfict say "no." Those in Carolina say "you betcha."
During a season that saw him make it to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl, Burfict led the Bengals in penalties as a second-year player in 2013. Among those were eight unnecessary roughness penalties. This season, despite playing just one full game -- Sunday's -- he is tied for the team lead in penalties after picking up three this weekend.
Burfict wasn't flagged for any of the incidents the Panthers are alleging.
It should be made clear that in this particular case Burfict's side of the story still isn't known. For two straight days he has rebuffed media in Cincinnati seeking to speak with him not only about Carolina's claims but also about his return Sunday from a concussion-induced two-game absence. When the Bengals' locker room reopens to reporters Wednesday, it would be in his best interest to try to clear the air.
That is, if the new multimillionaire cares about the negative connotation his reputation is continuing to have.
Even if deep down he doesn't, it still is time publicly for the linebacker, who signed a contract extension that will pay him more than $20 million over the next four years, to start thinking more seriously about the impression his habitual line-toeing style of play is leaving on his opponents.
"I'm telling you, now that the league sees this, they're going to hone in on him like a homing pigeon," former Bengals offensive guard and current Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham said to ESPN on Tuesday. "Everything he does is going to be super scrutinized, not that it already isn't. Now it's going to be heightened. He's not doing himself any favors in that regard."
People around Burfict know all too well how he is being perceived. He has been called dirty since high school when he was alleged to have tried to take out Matt Barkley's knee on a sack attempt during a game between their Southern California schools. That play led Barkley three years ago to call Burfict "dirty" ahead of a college matchup between Burfict's Arizona State Sun Devils and Barkley's USC Trojans.
During that game, Burfict was seen pointing and shouting at Barkley before intercepting him and returning the ball near midfield.
What gets forgotten about that play is the end of it. After Barkley was tackled by Burfict, the linebacker immediately reached down and helped the quarterback up off the turf. It was a similar gesture to what Burfict did at one point Sunday when Panthers linebacker and Cincinnati native Luke Kuechly went down after getting hit hard during a Carolina interception return.
At the end of that play, Burfict jogged on the field and helped the visibly woozy Kuechly to his feet. A source close to Burfict mentioned that play Monday when asked about the linebacker's style of play.
But even if acts like that are more closely aligned with who Burfict the person is, rightly or wrongly, it's hard to keep them in mind when other gestures, like last season's fine-worthy groin tap on Packers tight end Ryan Taylor take place.
If this ultracompetitive player wants to salvage his reputation regardless of what the NFL finds this week, he will take Lapham's advice and curtail the shenanigans.
"He's a great player, and I don't think he needs to cloud the issue of being a great player with some of those things," Lapham said. "That's not necessary. He's a great football player. Why do anything to sully that reputation?"