On The Steelers: Cincinnati has all the comforts of home
January 5, 2016 7:02 AM
Steelers' Heath Miller celebrates his touchdown against the Browns in the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Steelers Markus Wheaton hauls in a pass for a first down against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Dec. 13.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the final seed in the playoffs, the Steelers cannot play at Heinz Field in the postseason. Instead, they will open their run to a Super Bowl in a more inviting place — Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Steelers have won 14 of their 17 games in that stadium along the Ohio River since it opened in 2000. It includes their only playoff game against the Bengals, after the 2005 season when they used PBS as their first steppingstone to a Super Bowl XL championship.
Overall, the Steelers have beaten the Bengals nine of their past 12 meetings and 14 of their past 19. But it has been in Cincinnati where the Steelers have had so much success.
As Steelers safety Will Allen said Monday, “It’s been a rivalry for a long time and, you know, they beat us sometimes and we beat them a lot.”
The Steelers get to add to that impressive record when they play at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals have never won a playoff game in the previous 15 years of Paul Brown Stadium. In fact, the Bengals have not won a playoff game anywhere in 25 years, the longest postseason victory drought in the NFL and one of the longest in the league’s history.
Cincinnati lost its past six playoff games, three of them at Paul Brown Stadium, and are 5-13 in the postseason since they entered the league in 1970.
The Steelers’ most recent game in Cincinnati on Dec. 13 broke into a series of ugly moments beginning when the two teams mixed it up in pregame warmups and it did not end until the Steelers walked off with a 33-20 victory.
That game and its many infractions cost players from both teams nearly $140,000 in NFL fines, almost half of that to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who got things going in pregame warmups by invading the Steelers’ side of the field and then butting helmets with linebacker Vince Williams.
“They woke up an angry bear, you know?” Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert stated Sunday after his team clinched the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC.
It sets the stage for a juicy rubber match of a series that was split this season and the only intra-divisional playoff matchup in the first round.
“AFC North ball,’’ guard Ramon Foster called it. “We know how it’s going to go down. We know how they play, they know us. We have to go in there with the fight to win. No fuel there, just football.”
Did Foster say fight? He was among the most outspoken Steelers in the days after Burfict put halfback Le’Veon Bell out for the season with a brutal tackle Nov. 1 at Heinz Field and then walked off the field celebrating. Foster, though, and other Steelers do not believe the bad blood from those two games will carry over into the next one.
“We have to play ball,’’ he said. “It can’t be any of that crazy ruckus, it can’t be anything other than playing football on the field. Everything has to happen between the lines.”
Defensive end Cam Heyward explained why.
“That stuff played out. It’s playoff football; there’s too much on the line to mess around with that.”
The two-game series between them robbed each team of a key performer for Saturday night. The Steelers lost Bell for the season with a knee injury in the meeting at Heinz Field and backup DeAngelo Williams left their 28-12 victory in Cleveland with a sprained right ankle. An MRI showed no break and the Steelers will list him as day-to-day with a chance to play Saturday. The Bengals are without starting quarterback Andy Dalton, whose right thumb was broken Dec. 13 against the Steelers when he tried to tackle Stephon Tuitt after the defensive end intercepted his pass.
It has been the price these two teams have sometimes paid in this series. The Bengals also knocked Bell out in the final game of the 2014 season at Heinz Field and without him, the Steelers went down meekly in their first playoff game against Baltimore. Ten years ago, the Bengals lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer to a knee injury early in what would be their playoff loss to the Steelers in Cincinnati.
It has been a rough and tumble AFC North division series but it has been a rather satisfying one for the Steelers, who have had far more success in Paul Brown Stadium than they have had in Heinz Field.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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