Will 'professional hatred' consume Bengals, Steelers as bitter rivalry resumes?

Both teams say they're focused on winning
Posted at 5:45 AM, Sep 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-18 07:02:47-04

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals insist they're past the meltdown that cost them so dearly in a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last January.

Yet nine months later, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick still can't quite believe it.

Yes, that really was Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict belting Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown high, hard and late to draw a flag.

Yes, that really was cornerback Adam Jones drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after being goaded by Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter.

Yes, that really was Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell kicking a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to give Pittsburgh an 18-16 win .

"I watched that film, and every play it was something," Kirkpatrick said. "Every play. It was to the point where I was like, 'We really were doing that?' But hey, we know what kind of game it is, so we know what we have to go out there and do."

One in which both sides are trying to downplay the noticeable rise in tension during Cincinnati's ascension to consistent contender as the Bengals visit Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"Everybody knows the fines that are associated with this game," Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams said. "Everybody knows the professional hatred we have with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Bengals have with us."

The one thing Pittsburgh has that the Bengals do not is a long run of postseason success. After last January's debacle, the franchise remains winless in the playoffs since the 1990 season.

And while another shot is a long way off, Cincinnati (1-0) could make an early season statement by beating the Steelers (1-0) in Pittsburgh — and keeping its cool while doing it — for a second straight year.

That's rarely been a problem for the Steelers.

"We're a pretty cool team," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "We don't get too high or too low. We try to stay pretty focused on the goal, that's to win the game. All that ulterior stuff is hoopla. We don't pay attention to it."

Other things to look for as both teams try to get to 2-0 and an early edge in what should be another tight division race.

MISSING IN ACTION: Both sides will be short-handed. Burfict is serving a three-game suspension that came as part of the fallout of his vicious hit on Brown. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is also out three games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, though it hardly seemed like an issue as the 33-year-old Williams ran for an NFL-high 143 yards and a pair of scores against Washington in a Monday night romp.

PITTSBURGH KID: There's one Bengal looking forward to playing at Heinz Field. Receiver Tyler Boyd grew up in Clairton, Pennsylvania, and played many games at Heinz while attending Pitt. The Bengals drafted him in the second round. He had a pair of catches for 24 yards in the opener.

"I actually can't wait," Boyd said. "Hopefully I can make a touchdown coming back to my hometown. Hopefully the people there cheer for me and root for me no matter what.

"It's just surreal to me. I've played on that field so many times it's like I know the tracks. I grew up playing there, so hopefully I can come up with a lot of big plays."

DROPPING DALTON: While the Steelers defense kept Washington in check for the most part, the one thing Pittsburgh failed to do was get to quarterback Kirk Cousins. Pittsburgh blitzed less frequently than normal in an effort to protect a young secondary, though Heyward says that isn't an excuse. Cincinnati's offensive line was shaky at best in a narrow victory over the Jets in Week 1, a game in which Dalton was sacked a career-high seven times.

"You can cover up a lot when you're able to hit the quarterback," Heyward said. "We've got to put Andy on his butt."

PERFECT START: The Bengals are trying to open the season with a pair of road wins for the first time in franchise history. They've opened a season with back-to-back road games three times and failed to go 2-0. They'd be the first team to do it since Miami in 2013. They won at Pittsburgh last season and were 6-2 away from Paul Brown Stadium in 2015. They lost three games at home, two of them against the Steelers.

"Anytime you go on the road, it's tough to win," Dalton said. "Everything is stacked up against you, especially in Pittsburgh. It's a division game, their crowd gets into it. You've got to be poised and you've got to play throughout the whole game."