DENVER -- Given the intense way he plays, Vontaze Burfict believes NFL referees have put a target on his back. He thinks anything he does from here on out -- no matter how seemingly minute -- will be under the refs' microscope.
The Cincinnati Bengals linebacker said Monday after his team's 20-17 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos that a key call that went against him in the overtime period occurred because an official happened to see his number. With so much riding on the then-tied game, Burfict said it was the wrong time for a flag to come out.
"The refs, they obviously have it out for me, but you can't call a bulls--- flag like that at the end of the game," Burfict said. "He looked at my number and then threw it."
Barely a minute into overtime, with the Broncos driving on their side of the 50, Burfict made contact with tight end Virgil Green along Denver's sideline. As soon as the players collided, Burfict started trying to strip the ball. He continued doing so until it became clear he would have to make the tackle, but by the time Burfict tackled Green, the pass-catcher was on the Broncos' sideline and going out of the field of play.
The official who flagged Burfict called it unnecessary roughness, and the linebacker was penalized 15 yards. After the play, the Broncos had a first down with the ball on the Bengals' 41. Nine plays later, Denver kicked a 37-yard field goal to take an early overtime lead. Two plays after that, the Bengals were unable to match the score, as they fumbled on a shotgun exchange to end the game.
"The refs were late to blow whistles all night, and they threw the flag late," Burfict said. "Once the dude [Green] flopped, the ref looked at me and seen it was my number and then threw the flag. I can't control that. Just keep playing football."
Burfict said he tried to figure out why the flag was thrown and pleaded his case to head referee Ed Hochuli.
"I said, 'Ed, what happened? No whistles were blown?'" Burfict said. "He was like, 'Yeah, no whistles were blown, but he said you hit him late.' I said, 'What?' and just went on about it."
Coach Marvin Lewis couldn't tell what happened because the play occurred on the opposite sideline.
"He's trying to tackle a guy, and they are struggling. A lot of those things don't get called, and they let it go," Lewis said. "Both sides are pushing. I don't think he does anything besides push the guy as he goes out of bounds. It happens all the time."
Burfict has a growing negative reputation around the league, thanks to opponents' criticizing his post-whistle play. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen called Burfict out last season for twisting his and Cam Newton's ankles after tackling them. Steelers players took exception earlier this season to the way Burfict appeared to celebrate after tackling running back Le'Veon Bell on a play that ended Bell's season in Week 8.
Burfict was fined nearly $70,000 for three incidents that occurred in the Bengals' Week 14 game against Pittsburgh: roughing the passer, a face mask pull and unnecessary roughness. One of the plays that resulted in a fine came when Burfict dove low into Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's feet. Burfict contended he was pushed.