In 2005, the Steelers had won the AFC North eight times since the Bengals last held the crown and the Steelers looked at the Bengals as the whipping boys in the AFC North. They Bengals were looking to prove they too could be viewed as the top team in the division and on December 4, 2005 they took the first step in changing the long-held negative mindset associated with the team.
The Bengals were visiting Hines Field battling not only the players, but the filled stands waving their ugly yellow towels. The Bengals were 8-3 going into the game, the Steelers were 7-4. The winner would almost surely take the division. In the third quarter, Bengals killer, Hines Ward, caught a 20-yard touchdown pass that almost took the life out of the team.
Out came Tab Perry to return the ensuing kickoff, and what a return it was. Almost taking it the distance, Perry ran the last 25 or so yards with Steelers clinging to him. He was finally stopped at the 1-yard line where Bengals running back Rudi Johnson plunged into the end zone for the score.
As the tide shifted so did the respect for one of the greatest Steelers defenders. Rather than trying to run away from Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Johnson ran over him on a 14-yard touchdown scramble, essentially sealing the win and AFC north title for the Bengals.
Quarterback Carson Palmer tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions and the Bengals were able to pick Ben Roethlisberger three times en route to the 38 – 31 victory. Prior to that Sunday, the Bengals had won only three games in their last 27 December road games, but times began to change. The Bengals went on to win the AFC North that season, beginning their run of six playoff appearances in 10 seasons.
After the game, Steelers guard Alan Faneca said, "They're not the Bengals of old. Since Marvin Lewis came in, they've been a different team. They're starting to become a lot better."
"It used to be Pittsburgh's time," said Chad Johnson. "Now it's Cincinnati's time."
You may also remember T.J. Houshmandzadeh grabbing a terrible towel and wiping his cleats with it before heading into the locker room while getting booed -- quite a way to end the afternoon.