The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in five years, and there isn’t a logical reason to believe that would change when they meet for the final time this season. But, players maintain the rivalry remains intact despite the 11-game losing streak in the series, and they are still plenty motivated to end it even with the odds stacked against them.
Cincinnati (2-10-1) hobbles into Monday’s home game against Pittsburgh averaging just 10 points over the last five weeks. Both the starters at quarterback and running back are on injured reserve, and now backup Brandon Allen is out with a knee bruise leaving Ryan Finley as the starter for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, the Steelers (11-2) have a chance to clinch the AFC North title Monday at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are 11-25 all-time on Monday Night Football, including 3-8 against Pittsburgh.
“I mean, obviously, it would be huge, to beat the division rival on the biggest stage, on Monday Night Football, at home,” tight end Drew Sample said. “I think it would really, like I said, it would really give us a lot of confidence, and we know the type of team we are and we know the things we have to clean up. We know the players we have in this room, and we know we can go out and do that. And so I think we’re all -- we’ve had a really good week of practice so far and I think we’re all excited to kind of show out on Monday night.”
Prior to joining the Bengals this year, defensive tackle Mike Daniels used to look at this AFC North matchup as one of the “more spirited rivalries.” Even watching on TV, he could tell how physical the games were, and defensive line coach Nick Eason has shared stories of his memories battling in the rivalry during his time with Pittsburgh.
Daniel said his first experience playing in the rivalry five weeks ago was still what he expected, despite the lopsided 36-10 score.
“The rivalry was just as heated as I expected it to be,” he said. “It felt the way it looked on TV. It was very chippy. It was all the things you really look forward to when you’re playing a rivalry game. It kind of takes me back to college a little bit. I really just enjoy this contest a whole lot.”
The Bengals especially would like to prevent the Steelers from winning the AFC North title on their field, and knocking off an 11-win rival would be “humongous,” Daniels said.
Boyd, a Pittsburgh native, has never beaten the Steelers and probably hears about that more than most on the team. The fifth-year player has been on the field seven times against Pittsburgh, and he has three touchdowns and two games with 75 yards receiving or more.
“That’s one of the teams I face two times a year and I haven’t beaten,” Boyd said. “Every other team we’ve beat. Of course, I play with that chip on my shoulder. Week in and week out I think we can beat any team we face. Not being able to beat them since I’ve been here means a lot to me.”
The Bengals had an unexpectedly bad showing the last outing at Pittsburgh when Joe Burrow completed only 21 of 40 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown and took four sacks. Tee Higgins fumbled at the end of a 9-yard reception that took Cincinnati across midfield, and Alex Erickson fumbled a 13-yard punt return.
At that time, the offensive struggles seemed like a fluke but then Burrow went down for the season the next game and Cincinnati has scored more than nine points just once since then as part of a five-game skid. The Bengals averaged 24.3 points per game through the first half of the season and 30.7 points over the three games prior to the first matchup with Pittsburgh.
They also were among the league leaders for points per drive in the second half under Burrow and are dead last since he’s been out. Finley has appeared in four games off the bench and has two interceptions and seven sacks in 34 snaps.
“It’s definitely a chemistry thing,” Boyd said. “At the end of the day, we have to go out there and play with who’s ever name is called. We just have to reconnect with the guys that are being thrown in there. At the end of the day, I still have to continue to do my job just like the linemen, running backs and other receivers. It’s not easy being a back-up quarterback and coming straight into it and leading us where we left off. We have to do a good job making as many plays as we can for those guys.”
The fact Pittsburgh is coming off its first two losses of the season doesn’t make Boyd feel any more confident than he would otherwise against the Steelers.
“At the end of the day the games go by the turnover margin,” he said. “Both of their (losses) they’ve given up turnovers at the end, in the second half. Those are crucial. It’s the same reason that’s going on with us. It’s all about taking care of the football. At the end of the day, whoever is taking care of the football the most and creating turnovers, that is most likely the team that is going to win.”
Steelers at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, NFL, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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