One of the NFL’s most intense rivalries is back for another chapter as the Bengals head to Pittsburgh for a game that could have a strong hand in deciding the fate of the AFC North in 2016. There seems to be just as good of a chance that either team could come away with this victory given the intensity of their wins the previous week. However, it hasn’t always been that way.
As members of the same division since the Bengals joined the NFL in 1970, they have played the Steelers a total of 91 times. However, given the Steelers’ historical prowess and the Bengals lack of it, the Bengals have only managed to win 35 of those 91 meetings.
The very first meeting between the teams took place on November 2, 1970 and resulted in a 21-10 win for the Steelers. Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter and Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw both looked awful in the game, recording passer ratings less than 50. However, Steelers backup quarterbacks Dick Hoak and Terry Hanratty combined for eight completions for 155 yards and two touchdowns, whereas the Bengals chose to ride the ineffective Carter throughout the game.
Later that month, the Bengals notched their first franchise win over the Steelers by a dominating score of 34-7. Carter was much better in this game, connecting on 10 of his 18 passes for 146 yards, two touchdowns, and a fantastic passer rating (119.2). He also rushed for a touchdown. The Bengals’ running game dominated as running back Paul Robinson totaled 119 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
In 28 total meetings with the Steelers during Marvin Lewis’ tenure, the Bengals have only beaten the Steelers eight times. Granted, the Bengals’ four division championships in that time doesn’t fall that far from the Steelers’ five, but, in terms of head-to-head matchups, the Steelers have generally dominated.
Going all the way back to the beginning of the modern rivalry, the Bengals managed to secure the division crown over the Steelers in 2005 for the first time since 1988. However, the Steelers made the playoffs as a Wild Card team and traveled to Cincinnati for the first round of the playoffs. Two plays into the Bengals’ first drive, quarterback Carson Palmer threw a massive 66 yard bomb to Chris Henry. However, both players were severely injured on the play and could not return. Without their franchise quarterback and one of their top receiving threats, the Bengals went on to lose the game 31-17.
For the Bengals and their fans, that one hurt. It was the first time they managed to make the playoffs in over a decade, only to have their playoff dreams violently ripped out from under them. From that point, the rivalry picked up a lot of intensity, which helped to create the situation between the teams today. The Bengals have only won six of the 21 matchups since, but they knocked the Steelers out of playoff contention in 2012 as well as winning the division in 2013 and 2015.
Still, despite the win-loss total in the recent games between the two teams, the Bengals-Steelers rivalry has become one of the most heated in the NFL. This is easily exemplified by the most recent game between the two teams in the 2016 Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Bengals fans might remember the Wild Card game for the absolutely heartbreaking ending that essentially wiped out an entire game of stout defensive play and a late, clutch surge by AJ McCarron and the offense. Not only did Jeremy Hill fumble the ball late in the fourth quarter, setting up a game-winning drive for the Steelers, but the game-winning field goal was essentially handed to the Steelers due to a pair consecutive personal fouls from Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict.
Granted, Jones’ penalty should have been offset due to Steelers coach Joey Porter’s illegal presence on the field, taunting Bengals players. But, the Bengals still can’t react like that, so there’s no point in focusing too much on any perceived injustice. In addition to that situation, there were plenty of reckless, dangerous hits throughout the game, like when Ryan Shazier speared Giovani Bernard’s helmet and knocked him out of the game. The game could essentially be described as a disgraceful display of pure hatred between two teams that simply can’t stand each other.
In recent years, that has been the general trend between the Bengals and the Steelers, albeit never quite that intense in other meetings. Throughout the recent history of the rivalry, Steelers fans have accused Bengals players of intentionally targeting guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, all of whom have suffered serious injuries at the hands of plays by the Bengals. On the flip side, Bengals fans have accused Steelers players of intentionally targeting guys like Carson Palmer, Keith Rivers, Kevin Huber, Chris Henry, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard, all of whom have suffered injuries at the hands of plays (legal and illegal) by the Steelers.
There’s no telling what will happen when the Bengals and Steelers meet again in 2016, although the suspension of Vontaze Burfict will likely be a factor in the overall intensity. In Week 1, the Steelers looked like a dominant team in their win. Despite one game already being in the books, this upcoming game will likely set the tone for each team’s season. The Bengals will be hoping to come up with a better result than they usually do when playing Pittsburgh.