Animosity is no stranger when the Bengals and Steelers are playing one another. No shortage of injuries, fines, and suspensions are handed out after every matchup, and it’s taken its toll on those involved.
“Every game I’ve been in against the Steelers has (had) some type of aggressive hits, or something dirty going on,” said Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Nobody wants to see this. The fan bases don’t like to watch these games. While there are some NFL fans that will say this is good old-fashioned football, most others will say that rivalries like this are bad for the game. But the players are the ones that despise these kinds of games the most.
“You know, it’s AFC North football,” said Steelers’ quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. “It’s one of those game that can get chippy at times. You hope it doesn’t. You hope it’s just a hard-fought football game but sometimes it gets a little chippy. So, we’ll do our best to put all that in the past behind us and play like it’s a normal football game.
“It’s not about just the physicality of the football game to me,” he continued. “It’s when it gets the extracurricular stuff that you wish would be cut out of it — and hope is cut out this time.”
That is all well and good, but it is easier said than done. It will take more than a snap of the fingers to put years of ugly history in the rear view mirror.
“Well, I think on our side, we’ll put it behind us,” said Roethlisberger. “We are going to go in and play like it’s a normal football game. AFC North physical football game. We can only control half the players out there though, so we know how important this game is for us to try and get a ‘W.’”
By only mentioning “half the players,” Roethlisberger happened to omit the one player that comes to mind whenever anyone thinks of this rivalry: Vontaze Burfict.
It’s no secret that the Steelers don’t see eye-to-eye with Burfict. For instance, in the latest installment of this series, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered a devastating blow to Burfict’s head, ending the linebacker’s season. When Smith-Schuster was asked about it in a postgame interview, his teammate Antonio Brown was heard yelling “Karma,” over his teammate.
That play has become so iconic in Steelers’ lore that the image of Smith-Schuster standing over an unconscious Burfict with “Karma” in the background has been made into a T-shirt.
Smith-Schuster has since confessed: “I don’t have to pay for anything. When I go to bars, I don’t have to pay for drinks or anything. ‘Yo, we appreciate what you did,’ and stuff like that.”
But despite all the beef between Burfict and the Steelers, Roethlisberger decided to take the high road.
“He’s a good football player,” said Roethlisberger of Burfict, “Honestly, I have said this to him on the football field, he is a phenomenal football player. [He’s] very smart, physical, can make all the plays and so you need to know where he is in that sense, yes, because of how good he is.”
Roethlisberger even came up with a plan to protect himself against Burfict.
“[I’ll] just tell the linemen to block really well.”
Even if Roethlisberger didn’t mean what he said, he still made a solid effort to ease the tension as much as he could. We’ll see on Sunday if the Steelers really do keep themselves under control.
Dre Kirkpatrick offers some perspective on how he was able to keep his emotions in check.
“Before me and [Brown] got cool, we didn’t like each other,” said Kirkpatrick. “I’m going into the game... like ‘How could I get into it with him?’ At the end of the day, that’s not playing football. That’s going out there trying to bull somebody or pick fights. At the end of the day, we lost, so we’ve got to change something.”
“At the end of the day, it’s football,” said Boyd. “You can’t go out there and play scared, play frightened. You’ve got to go out there and hit. It’s hit or be hit. Those are the games that are going to be hard fought and those are the games you have to bring it to get the win. It’s a (divisional) game. Not saying we don’t come out and bring it every game, but it’s something about the Steelers when we play them, and the Ravens. Those type of games, we’ve got to be super locked in, super prepared and focused.”
Even though we’re not even halfway through the season, this upcoming game against the Steelers already seems like a must-win for the Bengals. As Cincinnati is chasing their first postseason berth since 2015 — which was ended in a dramatic fashion against the Steelers— picking up a division win would go a long way to help. Staying focused will be very important, especially since the Steelers will enter this game as the most penalized team in the NFL.
Let’s hope that good football wins out over high tension.