Back on October 14th, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers had an epic clash at Paul Brown Stadium. Marvin Lewis’ squad was a scrappy 4-1 going into Week 6 and had just mounted a comeback against their bitter rivals to seemingly nail a comeback win with under two minutes to play.
Moments later, when Antonio Brown took a Ben Roethlisberger pass 31 yards for the game-winning score with just 10 seconds left, Pittsburgh stole more than that single contest from the Bengals. They took their confidence, their spirit; their very 2018 essence with them back to The Steel City.
Cincinnati never recovered, emotionally or physically, and have gone 2-7 since that game. It’s just the latest in the saga of Bengals heartbreaks at the hands of the Steelers.
Everybody remembers the 2005 Wild Card game, but 2006 casually slips from memory. The Bengals needed to win just one of its final three games to get into the postseason that year and ended it on a winless slide.
The final game of that season? An overtime loss to the Steelers in Bill Cowher’s final game as Pittsburgh’s head coach.
We also know what happened in the 2015 Wild Card game. But, the aftermath of that singular loss has had a three-year effect in which the Bengals are sniffing a combined 19-28-1 record since their implosion.
Really, this is the theme with these two teams. Not only do the Steelers have the Bengals’ number in terms of wins and losses, but they burrow into the Bengals’ psyche and dwell there, rent-free, for extended periods of time.
How they achieve this is a work of evil genius. They get players to dole out big hits, usually causing major injury, with minimal league sanctions. Former players who dominated them on the field in previous years are given coaching gigs and goad Bengals players with powder keg personalities (that is, of course, when they aren’t yanking their dreadlocks on the sideline).
This has all been especially true in the Marvin Lewis era. As he is gearing up for the final game of 2018, which will be his seventh meaningless season finale in 16 years, job security is a topic of conversation.
But, even with the Bengals amid their third straight losing season, the prevailing opinion seems to be that Lewis should be safe in 2019. Even if that becomes his last year in Cincinnati, his leash has proven to be longer than that given to any other coach in the NFL.
Injuries, unlucky bounces, assistant coaching turnover. Excuses.
The former listed facet is one that will be playing a major effect in the outcome of Week 17. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict and a myriad of others won’t be suiting up against the Steelers to finish the season. It’s setting up for a cruise control situation for the Steelers in which they need to put forth more effort in keeping an eye on the league scoreboard over what will be transpiring at Heinz Field on Sunday evening.
Pittsburgh can get into the playoff bracket once again with a win and a little help—namely in the Browns offing the Ravens during the same time. If they can get in once again, it will be their fifth consecutive year of continued January work.
If they don’t, there might be a call for Mike Tomlin’s head by the masses. He’s done well as the head coach of the Steelers, but non-championship football is only tolerated for so long in the Three Rivers area.
Since Lewis brought the Bengals back to prominence, owner Mike Brown has been obsessed with the idea of continuity. It’s a sage strategy when effectively applied, and having seen it work for the Steelers, Brown has been attempting to emulate their formula—at least in this lone respect.
Though the Who Dey faithful loathe all things Steelers, there is a level of respect (or maybe simple envy?) in their massive success. Since 1969, Pittsburgh has only had three head coaches of their professional football team. Three.
And through 50 seasons of football, “Sixburgh” is looking for its 31st playoff appearance. Patience is a virtue, eh?
One question lingering in the background for the Steelers should they fail to make the postseason is in their handling of the Le’Veon Bell situation. Might he have helped them get another win or two along the way if he wasn’t holding out for a massive contract?
Regardless, a massive tip of the cap has to go to the Steelers’ offensive line, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. They have continued to churn out productive run performances without Bell, proving the worth of having talented big boys up front.
We could sit here and talk individual matchups for a while, but what’s the use? With so many Cincinnati backups playing in critical spots, they are overwhelmingly out-manned this week.
Even with the result in Week 6, this rematch seemed to be one that could have been a marquee clash to end the season. Now, it may just end up being about draft positioning and prepping for the offseason after a disappointing year from both squads.
What this game is about is pride.
From the Steelers’ standpoint, it’s in taking care of business, getting a division win and hoping to sneak into the postseason. Pittsburgh knows what happened between Cincinnati and Baltimore in the 2017 finale, so they won’t be overlooking the Bengals in this go-round.
For the Bengals, the pride stems from playing with high effort to show that Lewis hasn’t lost the locker room. It’s about keeping the game within reach and maybe potentially stealing a win to end the season on a high note after the past two and a half months have had so few of them.
The long-term futures of both teams and their head coaches are murky right now. Even so, everybody on that field has something to play for: the playoffs, their job, building for the future and/or to prove something.
The victor will have quite the notch in their metaphorical belt—even if they are sitting at home for the rest of the winter.
Bengals 16, Steelers 24
AC — Thanks for 2018, CJ-ers.