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Controversial Bengals outside LB Burfict: 'I hate Pittsburgh'

| Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, 7:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Bengals' Vontaze Burfict backs away from a scuffle with Steelers tight end Heath Miller during their game Dec. 13, 2015, in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict made it abundantly clear how he feels about the Steelers heading into Saturday night's AFC wild-card game at Paul Brown Stadium.

“I hate Pittsburgh,” Burfict said after practice Wednesday.

“It's not personal. That's just the way it is.”

Burfict, whose fiery, volatile persona fuels a stingy Bengals defense, then hurried out of the locker room without uttering another word. He wasn't interested in providing the Steelers with the kind of bulletin board material that inspired them to a 33-20 victory in the Bengals' backyard four weeks ago.

Burfict, of course, has become public enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers haven't forgiven Burfict for supposedly showing little remorse after his sideline tackle led to a season-ending knee injury for running back Le'Veon Bell during the Bengals' 16-10 win at Heinz Field in Week 8.

Also, Ben Roethlisberger accused Burfict of purposefully hitting him below the knee during the teams' rematch Dec. 13. The league office agreed, and fined Burfict $69,454.

Burfict, who was involved in a pregame skirmish with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, largely has avoided the media, in part, to put a checkered past behind him.

He was fined three times in 2013 and again in 2014 for twisting the ankles of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen.

Even with the noise surrounding Burfict, the AFC North champions — like the Steelers — have shifted their attention to the postseason.

“We addressed the last game with the team right after we played it,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said earlier this week.

Still, the Bengals are unapologetic when it comes to their emotional leader. Burfict totaled a game-high 11 tackles even as he was forced to the sideline with several nagging body blows.

“We know that Vontaze is going to come downhill to make plays, so it's going to be another tough-guy game,” linebacker Vincent Rey said. “We'll do whatever it takes to win.

“We have to change some stuff because what we did last time wasn't good enough.”

If nothing else, Burfict is trying not to be a distraction as the Bengals try to secure their first postseason victory in 25 years. Yet, the Bengals feed off his aggression.

“It's more mental focus than anything else,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “If we let that stuff get in the way, that's when the mental errors occur and you lose focus on your assignments.

“I don't want to say they were more physical in the last game, but we made some crucial errors. We gave them some easy points. I'm not going to say the better team won that day. If we play our game, we'll win.”

The Steelers pushed the Bengals around in their last meeting, especially on third down (8 for 14). It was enough to give the Steelers an emotional edge.

“Obviously, emotions are going to be flying around because it's a playoff game,” Maualuga said. “Obviously, we have to tone things down. We're not going to create a personal foul to hurt the team. Sometimes, stuff happens because we let our emotions get the best of us. We can't lose our composure.

“As linebackers, we have to do what makes us successful — and that's playing physical. We are going to play until the whistle is blown.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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