Saturday night will be remembered as the turning point for the Cincinnati Bengals. When the game clock at Paul Brown Stadium hits zero, the Bengals will know where they stand. They will understand what they need to do for the future and for the continued success of the franchise. But before that, they will have to leave the little brother tag behind. They must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to show how far they’ve come.
Cincinnati versus Pittsburgh isn’t just a game. The players will say that it’s just one of many games that have to be played. But that’s far from the truth. Beyond the chippy games and thuggish social media exchanges, there’s a dislike that comes from mutual respect. The Bengals and Steelers have been rivals since the days of the AFC Central division.
The feelings haven’t changed over the years. Vontaze Burfict is well aware of his status with the Steelers and the rivalry. He feels the same about them. Burfict admitted his thoughts, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“I hate the Steelers. It’s not personal. That’s just the way it is.”
The Bengals used to have dominance over Pittsburgh. During the 1980s, Cincinnati was a powerhouse. Under the leadership of Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche, the Bengals weren’t the disrespected team that most bandwagon fans are used to hearing about. They demanded respect from the NFL and football purists. If you understood the game, you respected what the Bengals were able to do.
The Bengals were a franchise on the move, under Gregg and Wyche. The little brother tag was thoroughly trashed during that decade. The Bengals went 13-6 against the men from Pittsburgh and seemed to be getting better. Then the age of desolation happened. From 1990-2002, the Bengals were the laughingstock of the league. It became chic for fans to wear grocery bags over their heads at games.
When Marvin Lewis became the head coach of the Bengals, he began a rebuilding process that has finally begun to payoff. The Bengals have once again shown that they can be a competitive team in the NFL. Two times in three years, the Bengals have been crowned AFC North Champions. But the little brother tag had reappeared, due to the horrendous play of the decade before.
Since 2011, the Steelers have won the AFC North one time. But they still have the attitude of being the best team in the division. That’s a debatable matter based upon facts and opinion. But the bottom line is clear. The Bengals have the weapons to beat the Steelers in the Wild Card game. They merely have to believe it can be done. The Steelers are a team being held together by smoke and mirrors. They’re going to crumble soon. That may be in the Wild Card game.
The Bengals’ defense has been playing lights out, since the return of the hated Vontaze Burfict. The Steelers are smug and confident. They have six Super Bowl rings to help the trash talk move along. But none of that has been recent. Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010.
The Bengals have the talent. The coaching staff is capable of getting a victory. It’s time the burden was lifted from Marvin Lewis. The players need to knock the chip off the Steelers’ shoulder and move forward. It’s time for “little brother” to take the punch and fight back. It’s way past time to deal with the demons of primetime and playoffs woes. The Wild Card game will settle both scores.
There are no more excuses for the Bengals. Paul Brown never won a playoff game, as the first and most honored coach of the team. Marvin Lewis already has the most regular season wins. It’s time to bury the little brother moniker. Little brothers eventually grow up.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]