The tension seen on Sunday between two division rivals dates back to the first game of the season between the Bengals and Steelers. Well, it goes back further than that, but, Week 8 brought tension to an all-time high. During Cincinnati's 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 1, linebacker Vontaze Burfict tackled running back Le'Veon Bell, which resulted in a season-ending knee injury for the star running back.
After the injury, Burfict sprinted away in what Steelers players and fans perceived to be a celebration. Naturally, the Steelers were upset, including offensive lineman Ramon Foster. "They'll play it off; he'll act dumb about it. But you don't run across the field hyped, celebrating, jumping up and down when a guy goes down like that," Foster said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams publicly threatened to assault Burfict, which was captured by the internet before being deleted. It's unknown if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, or anyone from his office, will respond to a clear threat of assault. They haven't yet. Burfict himself has seen and acknowledged it.
The problem wasn't the tackle, rather the perceived celebration. After dragging Bell down, Burfict sprinted away after making the first down stop.
This boiled into Sunday's game, which the Steelers won 33-20, with players fighting and jawing with each other before the game even began.
Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth blames the NFL for allowing this to fester.
"That's the NFL's fault for not protecting the players," Whitworth said via Bengals.com in regards to Vince Williams. "After he sent that tweet he should have been suspended or fined or they should have made a stand that you shouldn't do that. Making a threat off the field, in the street, and you do nothing about it in this in this day and age? If he made that threat to me, I've got four small kids and I've got to worry about this guy jumping me?
"It sparked everything," Whitworth said. "We're competitive and Bengals-Steelers has always been chippy. But what that almost turned into was out of control. And it was an easy fix. You don't threaten another player's life off-the-field."