Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, Le’Veon Bell finally moved on after sitting out last year, and Antonio Brown and Vontaze Burfict are gone now, too.
So many of the big playmakers from past heated games between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a part of the rivalry, or at least won’t be this year, but that doesn’t change anything for the players who still are. And, neither does the fact both teams remain winless.
The Bengals and Steelers are set to clash in an AFC North division rivalry game on Monday Night Football this week at Heinz Field, and it’s still expected to have all the flare of past matchups.
“Ben not being there, A.B. and Le’Veon and Tez not being there, at the end of the day, it’s still Steelers-Bengals, so it will be a hard, physical battle no matter what,” Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We are in the same division. We are competing against each other to get to the playoffs, so I still believe it’s going to be the same game.”
It could be just what the doctor ordered for the Bengals, as they seek their first win under new coach Zac Taylor. They had chances to win two of the first three games, including Sunday’s 21-17 loss at Buffalo and a 21-20 loss at Seattle in the opener, and Pittsburgh provides another carrot to keep Cincinnati focused on whatever needs to be done to turn things around.
The division is still wide open, players say, and a win Monday night would go a long way in helping the Bengals get back on track.
“Any time you win a divisional game, it’s a huge boost,” Taylor said. “When you win on the road, it’s a huge boost. Again, we just want to get on that side of the tracks here and get a win. There’s a lot of positive things that come from this game. We need to have a good week of preparation, because I know they’re saying the same things in their locker room and their press conference. They want to get back on track too. Which team is going to be more focused and detailed and make the plays that are critical? These games come down to guys really being on top of their stuff. We’ll be prepared and ready to roll.”
The Bengals have lost 10 of their last 11 games dating back to last year and haven’t beaten the Steelers since 2015. Pittsburgh has won the last eight meetings in the series, including the 2015 playoff game that will long be remembered in the Queen City as a catastrophic meltdown.
This time feels different, though, as both teams are still finding their way. It can only help Cincinnati that Roethlisberger won’t be playing. Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph has played two games in his career, while Big Ben is 23-7 against the Bengals since coming into the league in 2004.
“It’s been a long time since we beat those guys and I want this game so bad,” said defensive end Sam Hubbard, who is a Cincinnati native. “I think a lot of guys in this locker room want this game so bad. We’re not focusing on the records. … There a lot of different players. There’s no Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. There are a lot of new faces out there. But I think it’s still the same rivalry. It’s Pittsburgh versus Cincinnati, I have no love for those guys. We want to get this win.”
Boyd especially is hungry for a win in his hometown of Pittsburgh. The fourth-year Bengals receiver has missed the last two matchups at Heinz Field, where he played games and practiced during his college career at the University of Pittsburgh.
The last time Boyd played there was a 24-16 loss against the Steelers in the second game of his professional career in 2016.
“I’m excited because I haven’t played on that field the past two years, and for me to finally get out there and show the people where I’m from how good of a player I still am is going to mean a lot,” Boyd said. “It’s Monday night and no one wants to put nothing bad on TV, so I’m going to go out and play my tail off.”
“I’ve got so many memories (there),” Boyd added. “Hopefully we keep adding onto it. I want to make a lot of great plays in the game. I want to be a difference maker and leave with a ‘W.’”
Even though Taylor is new to the rivalry, he is well aware what it means to the team and the city. It was always a matchup he admired, and fans have made sure to tell him how they feel about Pittsburgh.
A win Monday night would make for a memorable milestone in his young career.
“This has been, from afar, one of the premier divisions to watch football,” Taylor said. “You always know it’s going to be a slugfest, a dogfight, or whatever you want to call it. Obviously, there’s a history here between these two teams. It’s fun to watch. That’s what makes this league so much fun, and being here (in Cincinnati) so much fun – that you get to play in games like this. … It’s going to be a fun one on Monday night.”
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