All of us remember the 2005 season in which the Bengals tore through the AFC North, going 11-5 and earned their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons. You may also remember it because the teams savior, at that time, Carson Palmer, had his knee destroyed by Kimo von Oelhoffen early in the game, forcing the team turn to backup quarterback Jon Kitna. As a result, the Steelers went on to win the game and the Steelers went on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
I don't know about you, but it still makes me sick to think about it. What many of us don't remember is what the Steelers did to the Bengals the following season.
The Bengals and the Steelers were set to play the final game of the regular season in Cincinnati in 2006. The Bengals came into the game with an 8-7 record and were in a situation similar to the one they're in now: win and they're in. The Steelers were 7-8 and were already eliminated from post-season play. Well since we're saying that the Bengals haven't been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since the '81 and '82 seasons, you already know what happened, but here's how it happened.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Steelers struck first on a one-yard Willie Parker touchdown run, giving them a 7-0 lead. The Bengals followed up with a field goal from Shayne Graham to make it 7-3. Neither team scored in the third quarter again, but in the fourth quarter the Bengals took the lead with a 66-yard bomb from Carson Palmer to Chris Henry. The score was then 10-7.
The Steelers took the lead back with another one-yard Willie Parker touchdown run, making it 14-10 but the Bengals struck back with a pass from Palmer to Tony Stewart, making it 17-14 after the extra point. On the Steelers' next drive, kicker Jeff Reed evened the score at 17-17 with a 35-yard field goal.
At the very end of the game, kicker Shayne Graham was set up with a 39-yard attempt from right in the middle of the field to give the Bengals the win and send them to the playoffs. Since we all remember how un-clutch Graham was, in hindsight it was a surprised that he missed the kick wide right. Of course, the game went into overtime, the Steelers got the ball first and Ben Roethlisberger punished the Bengals by throwing a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes almost immediately, eliminated the Bengals from the playoffs.
Now, this was obviously a different Bengals team playing a different Steelers team in a slightly different scenario. I personally think that this Bengals team is better than they were in 2006 on both sides of the ball with an exception of maybe a couple of positions, and I think that they work better together as a team. I also think that this Bengals team takes care of its business much better than that other team did in 2006.
Sunday's game in Pittsburgh is the biggest game of the season for obvious reasons. In previous years, the Bengals tended to crumble under the weight of big games, but I don't think that will happen to this particular Bengals team. They aren't built on quicksand like other teams were where they struggled to keep together in the locker room and relied just on talent to win games. This team seems to be built on much more stable ground with solid leadership from their biggest players.
I feel much more confident coming into this game than I did that game even though the Bengals had just come off an 11-5 the season before. Andy Dalton has yet to beat the Steelers with his young cast of talented players. I think this is the week we see it happen.