When the NFL released the 2016 schedule, the Cincinnati Bengals appeared to catch a bad break with a Week 4 Thursday night game that forced linebacker Vontaze Burfict to return from his three-game suspension with minimal practice.
But Burfict said Monday it actually worked to his advantage with an extra three days of recovery from his first game action since January.
“I was a little sore, but it was a mind-over-matter thing,” Burfict said. “I had to take care of my body the next day, get a massage, get stretched, stuff like that. That’s the price you’ve got to pay for playing in the NFL.”
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In addition to the three days off, the Bengals got in an extra practice session Monday before beginning full preparations for Sunday’s game at Dallas on Wednesday.
“It’s good for me just for me personally to get some practice under my belt for a game,” Burfict said prior to Monday’s practice. “It’s going to be huge for me. I get to get a look at what they do, get a chance to run through it, walk through it and stuff like that. I’m excited just to go out to practice today and be a leader.”
Burfict played 34 of 45 snaps (76 percent) in Thursday’s 22-7 victory against Miami, which was the most of any linebacker on the team.
Rey Maualuga played 23, Karlos Dansby 22 and Vinny Rey – who played 206 of 212 snaps during Burfict’s absence – 15.
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“He held his ground and did a great job,” Burfict said of Rey. “Even now he’s still doing a great job. We all have our great things that we do better than the others. It’s great to have different packages that we go in as and keep us all fresh.
“Vinny came in on third down,” Burfict added. “He had to watch us on first and second down, come in on third down and make a great stop. That’s great for us. We have good depth and hopefully we can keep it up like that the rest of the year.”
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Burfict not only is back on the field, he’s back in form.
He’s never been one to offer a lot of praise for the opponent, and Monday afternoon he had some fun with the media when asked about Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
On the subject of Elliott — who leads the NFL with 412 rushing yards, including 278 in his last two games — Burfict said:
“The offensive line is the best on the team. They’re a great O line, and honestly I think any running back could run behind them. Just find the hole for Ezekiel and obviously hit it.”
There don’t tend to be as many holes for opposing running backs to hit when Burfict is playing. In the six games he missed last year due to injury and the three this year while suspended, the Bengals defense allowed an average of 120.3 rushing yards per game and 4.8 per carry.
In the last 11 games Burfict has played, opponents are averaging 80.4 yards per game and 4.0 per carry.
“I’m good with everything,” Burfict said when asked if he thinks his strength is defending the run. “Whatever coach calls, whatever the offense wants to throw at us, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. I like to catch interceptions, too. But it seemed like Thursday night it wasn’t coming my way. When me and Geno (Atkins) line up on the same side, it seems like the offense either goes opposite from us.”
When the topic switched to Prescott, the exchange went like this:
Reporter: “How much do you know about Dak Prescott?”
Reporter: “Dak Prescott.”
“Who?” Burfict said for a third time with a chuckle. “No, I’m just playing. He’s a great quarterback. I was a fan of him in college. I watched a lot of their games in college. He makes good decisions. We’re going to have a tough task in front of us. We want him to stay in the pocket and not let him get out and obviously pat the ball a lot and make bad decisions back there.”
Prescott has yet to throw an interception in 131 pass attempts. He’s completed 89 of 131 passes for 1,012 yards and three touchdowns and is expected to make his fifth consecutive start while Tony Romo continues to heal from a broken bone in his back.
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