Bengals paced by Burfict's tough play

SAN DIEGO -- Three days ago, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was hurting.

The second-year player had just sprained an ankle, rolling it in his team's final practice before it boarded a plane for a four-hour trip from the Ohio Valley to Southern California. And even though he still was being bothered and bugged by the stinging sensation left by the injury that had just come his way, the native Californian was resolved over the weekend to not let it make him miss his first game of the season.

He wasn't going to be denied. He was going to play in front of his friends and family. He was going to play for his teammates. He was going to be a factor in the game.

He was going to help his team win the game.

"I have so many leaders around me where I feel like I have to step up to the plate, because they are expecting me to be great," Burfict said.

Not only was he great, but all things considered, he was spectacular. Playing through an injury that coach Marvin Lewis was convinced would have any other man or superman shelved for the day, Burfict ended up having a 13-tackle performance that mostly kept the San Diego Chargers out of the end zone and off the scoreboard. Even though San Diego was able to move the ball at times Sunday, Burfict's play was the difference-maker in the Bengals' 17-10 win, his teammates said.

"There's no doubt in my mind, most people wouldn't have been able to play," Lewis said. "He had another special day, and he played his tail off."

Lewis said Burfict will be placed in a boot for much of the week and probably won't practice until Thursday. AFC North-leading Cincinnati hosts the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.

While his teammates all said they expected Burfict to play, and expected the same level of execution once they learned he was going to give it a shot to play, they still were in awe by the special performance he turned in Sunday. According to them, it's that kind of approach that has helped pace the rest of the team.

"He's an animal," defensive end Michael Johnson said. "He was able to man-up and go, and that's who we've got around here. We've got a bunch of tough-minded, physical people that love playing football. That's what this team is built on, and it's going to take us a long way."

Burfict went through a series of drills to test his mobility about three hours before the game. After running through them with a trainer, he spoke with Lewis and his trainers and convinced them he was good enough to play. He said he wasn't trying to twist any arms, but he did want to make sure he ended up out there.

"Marvin asked me before the game if I would be able to go, and if he was second-guessing himself," Burfict said. "I said, 'Just trust me. Trust me to go out there and play well.'"

The style of play Burfict routinely showcases might take him to the Pro Bowl. He entered the weekend leading the NFL in tackles, and has begun earning a reputation for being a hard-hitting, trash-talking enforcer. He's spent his young career playing with an edge that borders on being reckless and boisterous, but also persevering and tough-willed.

"That young dude is going to be a great football player," safety Reggie Nelson said. "As long as he keeps handling business on and off the field, he'll play for a long time. His play speaks for itself. He's a good football player now, but as long as he keeps working on his craft and learning the game, he'll be alright."