CINCINNATI — When the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers play, drama is made not manufactured. When these two AFC North rivals face off, it is usually with something at stake for one or both teams. A war of words is inevitable, and in recent years, the result hasn’t gone in the Bengals’ favor.
“Every time we play them, it’s been a good game, comes down to the fourth quarter,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. “It’s a divisional game. We’ve had some hard games against them. They’re a really good team. There’s a lot of importance around this city and around this area with this game.”
Cincinnati (5-6) has lost five straight games to the Steelers (9-2) who have the AFC North race all but locked up. But, the Bengals need to win Monday night in order to stay alive in the AFC wild-card race.
“We have to keep pushing forward, and the only way to push forward is to come away with a W on Monday night,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “It keeps us on track to control our own destiny. We know the importance of it.”
That’s usually the case when the Bengals face the Steelers. But, after beginning the season 0-3 and firing offensive coordinator Ken Zampese in favor of Bill Lazor, Dalton and the Bengals have managed to stay afloat in the playoff race.
Since 1990, 20 teams have qualified for the playoffs with a record of 5-6 or worse after 11 games. It has happened at least once in 12 of the past 13 seasons.
The Steelers, again, lie squarely in the Bengals’ path.
“We know what’s going on,” said Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. “We know the magnitude of this game.”
In 2005, Pittsburgh ended what seemed like was going to be a Bengals run to the Super Bowl, along with an unfortunate injury to quarterback Carson Palmer. In 2015, the Steelers again denied the Bengals a playoff victory with an improbable last-second victory.
There is no love lost between the teams and fan bases. That has been well-documented.
“It’s AFC North ball,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We love that. We understand what that is. They’re riding a two-game win streak. It’s critical for them as it is for us.”
Already this week, there was Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell accusing Bengals rookie running back Joe Mixon of copying his running style and first-down celebration. The Steelers also orchestrated a touchdown celebration last week mocking wide receiver A.J. Green‘s fight with Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
“You can’t worry about this stuff,” Dalton said. “You can’t let that get into it. You just got to play your game. I don’t know what they’re thinking … it doesn’t affect us. All you got to do is win, that’s what it comes down to.”
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