CINCINNATI (AP) — One of the NFL’s edgiest rivalries is getting passed onto the next generation of Bengals.
Nine rookies will see firsthand why so much has been made of these high-stakes games with the Steelers.
It won’t take them long on Sunday to realize this game is different from the others.
“The vets? We know what this game is going to be about,” safety George Iloka said Wednesday. “The rookies? I think it will take no more than one series to see the intensity and say, ‘OK, this game is a little different in terms of physicality.’ And we’ll adjust, we’ll be fine, and we’ll be back to playing football.”
The Ohio River rivalry has been full of skirmishes and penalties. Players have delivered jarring hits and talked trash on social media.
And most times, it’s the Steelers (4-2) who got the better of it, finding ways to get under the Bengals’ skin.
The Bengals (2-3) can’t afford another loss to the team that has dominated them, winning seven of the past eight, 12 of the past 15, and 17 of the past 22.
The defining game was a first-round playoff game during the 2015 season when the Bengals rallied for a late lead, got an interception, fumbled, and helped the Steelers move in range for the winning field goal by losing their cool in the closing seconds. Vontaze Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the head with 18 seconds left, drawing a personal foul, and Adam “Pacman” Jones got another 15-yard penalty for bumping an official as the teams exchanged words after the play.
Many other moments linger, including Ryan Shazier’s hit on Giovani Bernard during the playoff game and Burfict celebrating after a tackle on Le’Veon Bell that left the running back with a torn knee earlier that season.
Burfict was suspended for the first three games in 2016 because of his hit on Brown, forcing the linebacker to miss their rematch in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 24-16 and later completed a series sweep by winning at Paul Brown Stadium 24-20.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to keep it classy,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We’re going to keep it professional. But it’s just one of those games. I don’t want to elaborate on anything because it seems like everything gets thrown out of proportion. It’s just one of those games.”
The cities’ proximity — separated by only a five-hour drive — and the importance of each game in the AFC North race spices the series. Asked whether the rivalry is the equivalent of brothers competing, Iloka shook his head.
“Naw, they’re not brothers,” Iloka said. “It’s that cousin that your parents invite over that you’re not really cool with. That’s what that is. They’re there for Thanksgiving dinner and you’re like, man, why did you all invite them this year? That type of thing.”
DALTON FULL GO
Andy Dalton fully practiced Wednesday. He hurt his left ankle during a 20-16 win over Buffalo and finished the game with a significant limp.
Jones was back in uniform and went through a limited practice. He hurt his lower back against Buffalo. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (shoulder) fully practiced. Rookie wide receiver John Ross was limited by a sore knee.
Coach Marvin Lewis said that tight end Tyler Eifert has returned to Cincinnati after having surgery on his back. Eifert had surgery on a back disc last December and reinjured it during the second game of the season. After trying to get the back healed with rest and treatment for three weeks, Eifert chose to have another procedure, ending his season. “He was told it was needed,” Lewis said.