Bengals players say 'the history doesn't matter' as they prepare to meet Steelers

Cincinnati's looking forward to bigger things

CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals were swept by the Pittsburgh Steelers the past two years, no one probably heard about it more than wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

The Clairton, Pennsylvania, native and former University of Pittsburgh product has yet to experience a win against his hometown team since the Bengals drafted him in 2016, and Boyd desperately wants to get the proverbial monkey off his back.

He's not the only one.

The AFC North-leading Bengals (4-1) play host to the Steelers (2-2-1) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and even as the more successful team so far this season, Cincinnati still has something to prove in the rivalry game. Pittsburgh has won the last six meetings, including the infamous meltdown in the 2015 playoffs, and nine of the last 10.

"It would mean a lot to me," Boyd said. "I haven't beaten them once, so that would mean everything to me. Just all my friends and family and fans coming to watch, I can start bragging a little and talk a little noise and stuff. I know they are my hometown team and stuff, so that's going to be fun to do."

A win also would help separate Cincinnati from the rest of the AFC North, where the Bengals currently hold a one-game lead over Baltimore for first place. The other three teams all have two losses (the Browns and Pittsburgh have one tie each), and Pittsburgh always seems to be the one to beat.

The Bengals' last four AFC North championship seasons all went through Pittsburgh, as they at least split games with the Steelers those years (2005, 2009, 2013 and 2015), but the players in the Cincinnati locker room are trying to downplay the importance of this game with a business-like attitude that hasn't been displayed during Steelers Week in the past.

The series in recent history has been marred by injuries, penalties and even fights and often is met with trash talk and players bashing and mocking each other on social media -- or in Pittsburgh's case last year, in touchdown celebrations.

"We have a new mentality here," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "We just have that single-purpose, single-focus mentality. Next up is a home game. One of our goals is to defend our home turf. We take pride in that. And then we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart and become 5-1.

"The history doesn't matter, because the history hasn't been in our favor. Our goal is to win a Super Bowl. It's not about winning one game in the season, and that makes the season. No, our goal is to win the Super Bowl and we haven't done that yet."

History is what leaves Bengals fans feeling uneasy any time the Steelers come to town. Cincinnati is 2-15 against Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium in the Marvin Lewis era, and the last three meetings there have been decided by four points or less.

Cincinnati was leading last year's home game 20-10 entering the fourth quarter and lost 23-20 on a last-second field goal. The Bengals were moments from victory in the 2015 playoff game, but they virtually handed it to Pittsburgh on a platter: a Jeremy Hill fumble and two catastrophic personal foul penalties put the Steelers in position for the game-winning field goal.

"It seems like the Bengals, every time they play them they have the game won and something slips, something happens and everything just goes to whatever you want to call it," said linebacker Preston Brown, who signed with his hometown Cincinnati Bengals in March after beginning his career with the Bills. "So we've got to find a way to maintain the lead, because it seems like they (the Bengals) always get a lead at the beginning of the game.

"I think it's a big game for us. It's the next game and a division opponent, so it's like two games, so we've got to find a way to beat the Steelers -- they've already got that tie -- so we can maintain our lead above them."

The Bengals have three comeback wins this season already, which Dunlap attributes to the "single-focus mentality" and no-quit attitude of the team. The ability to finish games is a good strength to have, but in a game where Cincinnati has struggled to do so, Pittsburgh just feels like another hurdle to clear.

Lewis is 1-5 against the Steelers in games he was favored to win, but the Bengals remain confident Pittsburgh should be the most concerned. The last three 4-1 starts were among those last four division title seasons, so perhaps, in that regard, history is a good thing.

"I just feel like staying focused and doing what we need to do, I feel like we'll come out with the W," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick believes it will help that so many of the players on the team now haven't been a part of a Bengals-Steelers game yet and aren't fully aware of the history and bad blood of recent matchups. There are 17 first- and second-year players on the roster, and Cincinnati is the second-youngest team in the league.

To the newcomers, this is just another game with some added hype and emotions they haven't experienced yet.

"Once the game gets going and they see the type of environment it is with the fans and the crowd, they understand what the magnitude is and all the hype, but at the end of the day … we're the team to beat right now -- not them," Kirkpatrick said. "Previous years, OK, cool, but right now we're the team to beat, so hopefully there's no need for us to overthink this."

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