CINCINNATI — Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green practiced for the second straight day on Friday, a good sign that he and his injured toe will be ready to play Sunday when the Bengals host Tennessee and try for their first 3-0 start since 2006. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a different story.
Burfict missed his third straight day of practice Friday due to a concussion and he has been listed on the Bengals’ injury report as doubtful for Sunday’s game. He has started 34 of 36 career games, including the playoffs, and has never had to miss a game.
That’s the small picture.
The bigger picture is that fact that Burfict has suffered a concussion in each of the team’s first two games this season. Burfict is less than a week from turning 24 years old. He led the NFL in tackles last season, which was just his second season in the league. He was named the team’s MVP by the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America, earned his first Pro Bowl berth and was a second-team Associated Press All-Pro pick.
Burfict is a rising star in the league and one of the team’s defensive foundations, so much so that the Bengals signed him to a four-year, $18.43 million contract extension this preseason even though he was only due to become a restricted free agent next offseason.
Burfict missed two days of practice last week but was cleared to play in a 24-10 win against Atlanta by an independent neurologist in accordance with the NFL’s concussion protocol. He played 31 of the 68 snaps on defense against the Falcons and was credited with four tackles, one quarterback hit and tipped a pass that led to an interception by cornerback Leon Hall.
Burfict left the season-opening win at Baltimore in the second quarter with a concussion. Against Atlanta, he came off the field in the second quarter after receiving a penalty for illegal hands to the face on the Falcons’ final drive of the half. He sat on the bench by himself at that point but returned to play in the third quarter. Burfict left the game for good after being kneed in the back of the helmet by teammate Emmanuel Lamur late in the third quarter. Both players were attempting to avoid hitting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as Ryan slid to the ground following a 6-yard scramble out of the pocket.
It was originally announced that Burfict had suffered a stinger. Further observations by doctors revealed he had suffered another concussion.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said that Burfict was doing better on Friday but that he had no idea on whether or not Burfict would play because he still needs to go through the protocol.
If Burfict can’t play, he would be replaced in the starting lineup as the WILL linebacker by Vinny Rey. Rey would also see extra action in the Bengals’ nickel packages, a spot normally held down by Burfict.
Lewis said during a press conference on Wednesday that his decision on whether a player is activated for the gameday 46-man roster is dependent upon whether that player has been cleared by medical personnel and how that player fits into the weekly game plan. Lewis said the fact that the Bengals have a bye week next week and don’t play again until Oct. 5 at New England doesn’t factor into his judgment.
Given the circumstances surrounding Burfict’s injury, however, an extra week off the field couldn’t be a bad thing. There is no standard timetable for return when a concussion is involved.
Any athlete who suffers one concussion, let alone two in consecutive weeks, is going to have the question of long-term effects surrounding them. Denver wide receiver Wes Welker was reinstated this week after the NFL and NFLPA worked out a new drug policy but before his original suspension was announced the concern for Welker was that he had suffered his third concussion in a 10-month span during a preseason game. Welker didn’t play in the final three regular season games last season after suffering two concussions in less than a month. He’s now been cleared to return under the concussion protocol and has practiced this week.
Burfict was one of six players listed on this week’s league-wide injury report with a concussion and one of three, along with linebacker John Abraham of Arizona and running back Joseph Randle of Dallas, who did not participate in practice Wednesday.