Mike Tomlin: JuJu Smith-Schuster taunting Vontaze Burfict was worse than the hit


During the Steelers‘ come-from-behind win over the Bengals on Monday night, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster decked Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict with a high block that concussed Burfict and ended his night. But according to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, that block wasn’t even the worst part of the play. Instead, it was how Smith-Schuster reacted after leveling Burfict when he stood over him and taunted him.

On Tuesday, Tomlin told reporters that Smith-Schuster’s decision to taunt Burfict was worse than the hit itself.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to see the television copy often times particularly in HD — that provides the best case scenario,” Tomlin said, per NFL.com “I’ll stand by my statement last night that his actions after the hit are more disturbing than the hit itself. Often times plays like that are teachable moments. When you look at it you have an opportunity to talk about ways you can be safer and so forth. He is a better sportsman than he displayed after the block and you got to acknowledge that. He’s got to work hard so people understand the type of man he is from a sportsmanship standpoint and that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. That’s just the reality of plays like that.”

He isn’t completely wrong. The block itself was bad, but at least he was trying to help his team by taking out Burfict, though there’s no question at all that hitting Burfict that high and that hard was completely unnecessary. 

But Smith-Schuster made the situation a million times worse by standing over Burfict and taunting him.

The NFL suspended Smith-Schuster later on Tuesday and in his letter to the wide receiver, NFL VP of Football Operations Jon Runyan specifically cited Smith-Schuster’s decision to taunt Burfict.

“You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area,” Runyan wrote. “You then ‘celebrated’ the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.” 

It’s worth noting that Smith-Schuster did apologize after the game — before he was suspended — specifically for standing over Burfict.

It’s also worth noting that Bengals safety George Iloka also received a suspension for his high hit on Antonio Brown later on that same drive. 

If you didn’t catch the game, you missed a thrilling comeback win by the Steelers and a game that was marred by dirty plays and horrific injuries — from Smith-Schuster’s block to Iloka’s hit to Ryan Shazier’s back injury, which sent him to the hospital. Given just how bad the game got by the fourth quarter, the NFL likely had no choice but to issue suspensions to send a message that those kind of hits have no place in today’s NFL. 



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