There’s bad blood between the Bengals and Steelers. It’s been going on since the Bengals franchise was wearing day-glow orange helmets with the name on the side. Since the team has been wearing stripes, the intensity of the rivalry has grown. Week 14 brought a street brawl to Paul Brown Stadium. The teams meet again Saturday night. This time there has to be more focus and less time for ruckus.
When the Bengals and Steelers met for matchup number two of the regular season, emotions were on edge. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had been accused of injuring Le’Veon Bell and putting him out for the year. Pittsburgh players also accused Burfict of celebrating on the sacred Heinz Field turf, after the injury. Per NFL Network, Bell suffered a torn MCL. Players from both teams burned up social media sites with threats.
When the Bengals finally faced the Steelers, fights broke out during pregame warm-ups. During the game, scuffles became the norm and the field was littered with yellow flags on almost every other play. There was close to $140,000 in fines that resulted from the insanity.
In that same game, Bengals’ WILL linebacker Burfict was accused of trying to hurt Ben Roethlisberger with a low hit. The Bengals ultimately lost Tyler Eifert for two weeks with a concussion and Andy Dalton with a fractured thumb. Dalton’s injury was sustained when he was trying to tackle a defensive lineman.
Steelers’ right tackle Marcus Gilbert responded to a series of tweets from Bengals cornerback Adam Jones by writing that “All I want for Christmas is the Bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke. The talking is done between the lines.” The tweet has been removed. But he recently followed that tweet with another that echoed his previous post.
The Bengals and Steelers will indeed tangle once more for the tiebreaker. This time, the action will send the loser home for good. There’ll be no preparing for next week. There will only be the memories of what could have been and what happened. The game will have to reflect the professional attitudes of the Bengals and their integrity.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis addressed the rivalry aspect of the game. During a conference call, he downplayed the intensity of the dislike the teams have for each other.
“Isn’t Baltimore their rival? We’re nobody’s rival. We just go out there and play.”
Mentally, the Bengals will have to make this the best game of the New Year. Playing against the Steelers has a tendency to make their opponents stray away from the task at hand. Pittsburgh is very capable of causing errors in judgment and making teams play below their level. Staying true to form will be paramount for the Bengals. There’s no tomorrow for the conquered, only months of grief.
The rivalry has always been a tough one. But the Bengals are staring destiny in the face. The Wild Card game means more than just another game against a division rival. They will be facing the scrutiny of a well-rehearsed media. Reverting to childish behavior like that seen in Week 14 will make matters worse. The Bengals are the team America wants to love but is afraid to.
Saturday, the Wild Card Game will be a chance for the Bengals to shine. They can finally prove they deserve to be mentioned as an elite team that has arrived. The Bengals will have to focus on more than the rivalry. They’ll have to focus on the moment. There’s no time for bad blood.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]