CINCINNATI — Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back with the Bengals, looking to inject some energy into a team off to its worst start in five years.
Burfict was suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the season because of his numerous illegal hits on opponents.
His hit to receiver Antonio Brown’s head drew a penalty that set up Pittsburgh’s last-minute field goal for an 18-16 playoff win last season.
The Bengals have numerous problems to fix, and not much time before the next game. The defending AFC North champions are already two games behind Baltimore and one behind Pittsburgh. Their offense is out of sync and their defense has given up a lot of big plays, both running and passing.
The Bengals (1-2) had their defense taken apart during a 29-17 loss to Denver on Sunday, with Trevor Siemian throwing a career-high four touchdown passes. Cincinnati hosts the Dolphins (1-2) on Thursday night.
The defense is expecting Burfict’s return to fix a lot of the problems immediately.
“You’re going to see a big difference,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said on Monday. “We got better today with him back.
“I’m super stoked about having No. 55 back. He brings a lot of energy to our guys. He’s got a mean streak to him.”
That mean streak has repeatedly gotten him in trouble in college and the NFL. The Bengals have tried to get him to keep his high-energy style of play while respecting the rules. So far, it hasn’t worked.
Asked on Monday if he will change his style in light of his three-game suspension, Burfict said, “Why would I change anything?”
It’s not all the defense, which ranks 15th this week. The offense has taken several big steps back from last season and hasn’t gotten into a flow under first-year coordinator Ken Zampese.
The Bengals had one of the worst running games in the league and came out against the Broncos determined to fix it.
Jeremy Hill’s 50-yard run on Cincinnati’s opening series marked a huge breakthrough, and the Bengals piled up 75 yards rushing in the first quarter. The Broncos adjusted, and Cincinnati managed only 68 yards rushing in the last three quarters.
Andy Dalton was 21 of 31 for 206 yards, but much of that came in the fourth quarter when the Broncos got up by two touchdowns and allowed short completions to drain the clock.
“We have a ways to go, and it’s now gut-check week,” Hill said.
The Bengals are 1-2 for the first time since 2011, which also is the previous time they lost a home game in September. That season marked the start of their five-year run of playoff appearances and first-round losses.
Cincinnati hasn’t opened a season 1-3 since 2008, when it finished 4-11-1.
Notes: TE Tyler Eifert could return on Thursday night as well. He had offseason surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ankle and missed all of training camp, the preseason and the first three games. Eifert returned to practice on a limited basis last week. Coach Marvin Lewis indicated there was a chance he could play against the Dolphins. … Burfict has a roster exemption for practice this week, but could be added to the active roster before the game on Thursday.