It might be the tale of two tales in the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals get mocked for, well, being the Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers are revered as the model franchise with their record six Super Bowl victories.
This rivalry doesn’t have the flare of the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers; however, many Bengals fans give top billing to the Steelers in the at department.
“This is Cincinnati’s rival, clearly,” says Geoff Hubson, editor of Bengals.com and former beat reporter for The Cincinnati Post and later for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Hubson made note of Marvin Lewis growing up in Pittsburgh and that Steelers HOF defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau spent more years coaching the blank-n-orange than the black-n-gold, adding, “Mike Brown and Dan Rooney are kind of the last of the older owners, there are a lot of ties in this series.”
Yet for some reason, sitting up nearly 250 miles northeast of Cincinnati, the feeling just doesn’t seem to ring true amongst those cheering for Pittsburgh. “At one time it did (mean something special)," said defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau, then adding, “Just another division opponent now.” Since most of the players he once coached there have moved on.
Today at Heinz Field, the Steelers, who have won nine of the last 11 meetings, including the last four in a row, continued there recent dominance of the Bengals, winning 35-7.
On an afternoon where Hines Ward would join the company of Jerry Rice and Art Monk as the only three receivers with over 12,000 yards receiving and multiple Super Bowl rings and Ben Roethlisber would become the all-time team leader in completions, the locker room was definitely upbeat.
Prior to the rout, the Bengals where previous winners of six straight. The Bengals, who now are 1-3 over their last four games, trail the Steelers by two games and have jeopardized their chances of making the playoffs with the loss today, while the Steelers hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.
“Nobody has to beat it in our heads that last week we didn’t play well” said receiver Mike Wallace, referring the dismal play versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
Early on it looked like the hangover from Kansas City was still lingering in the Steelers' offense, with the team punting and gaining zero yards on its first series. Like the spark to the raging fire, the Steelers' offense ignited after special teams blocked Bengals kicker Mike Nugent’s 33-yard field-goal attempt.
“It was great to get the win in our place. It was a very necessary AFC North winning performance by our guys,” said Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
With the ninth victory of the year, coach Tomlin joined an exclusive club of five other coaches who, since the 1970 merger, have won nines games in each of their first five seasons. George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Chuck Knox and Mike Sherman are the others.
“Play good December football,” said Brett Keisel. That is the main focus of the Steelers heading down the stretch, with only four games remaining, including three of the last four on the road and one highly-anticipated showdown against the upstart San Francisco 49ers.
The defense over the last 11 games has held their opponents to 23 points or less, with Coach Lebeau saying he thought the team played well again today after yielding only seven points to the Bengals, who ranked sixth in the AFC in points scored prior to kickoff.
The smiles in the Steelers' locker room will quickly turn into attention-filled faces, as they have a short week to prepare for their Thursday night game with another division opponent in the Cleveland Browns.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, it’s a home game. The team is 7-5 on Thursday Night Football, but they have a outstanding 5-1 record.
“It’s a big factor,” said Ben Roethlisberger in regards to the short week, adding, “Obviously it depends how healthy everyone is, it’s a bigger factor if people are banged up and hurt. Hopefully we can just carry this over, that’s the goal.”
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley re-aggrivaited his right hamstring injury but downplayed the issue. It will remain to be seen if he is healthy enough to go on Thursday night or will be a late scratch.
It seems like ages ago the Steelers were 2-2, looking like the same team back in 2009 that suffered the let down of making the Super Bowl run. However, since that time, the team has won seven of their last eight, and they seemed poised to make another run deep into the playoffs.