Of the many good news items for the Bengals coming out of Sunday's win in Pittsburgh, Vontaze Burfict ending a 15-game absence from the lineup injury-free had to qualify as one of the highlights of the day.
The outside linebacker not only made a long-awaited return, he played as well as everybody else on the team, tying for second with five tackles.
He played 36 snaps, 48 percent of the defensive total. It was probably more than the Bengals preferred, as Burfict stayed in the game after linebacker Rey Maualuga's first-half calf injury.
The only seeming negative for Burfict? He said he was winded in the second half.
“I just have to dig down deep and push through,” said Burfict. “It’s a long game, and it’s way different from rehab. (Sunday) was my first time hitting in a long time. But, I’m competitive, and whoever gets the ball, I’m gonna tackle.”
Burfict, trying to regain his Pro Bowl form, keyed the defense while helping hold Pittsburgh to one touchdown, none over the final three quarters, on the road. This, against a Steelers team that had won three straight in the series and were 8-2 the previous 10 meetings.
Burfict started and recorded solo tackles on Pittsburgh’s first two plays from scrimmage. He added another on a clean second-quarter hit that knocked Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell out of the game with a knee injury.
Burfict was out more than a year. The Bengals had been doing without their defensive centerpiece since Oct. 26 of last season, when he suffered a knee injury against Baltimore. He had offseason micro-fracture knee surgery, and opened 2015 on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list.
He rejoined the team in practice a week before the Steelers showdown. He was activated to the roster the day prior to the game.
Burfict was the Bengals’ leading tackler by wide margins in 2012 and 2013. He was a Pro Bowl selection for 2013. He said there were some key outside catalysts spurring his healthy return.
“There were some hard days when I didn’t feel like doing rehab, but Marvin (Lewis) made sure he called me, and made sure I got into the stadium," Burfict said. "Teammates kept pushing me. They knew when I was out of it. I’ve been pushed by teammates, coaches, Mr. Brown, and I thank them for it."