CINCINNATI (AP) — Six straight losses, starting with a pregame scuffle and an epic playoff meltdown.
Blown lead after blown lead.
Losing their cool and games, too.
There’s a common thread to the Bengals’ most intense rivalry, one that’s been one-sided the past three seasons.
No matter what happened, the Steelers always won.
The Bengals (4-1) lead the AFC North heading into the renewal of their acrimonious rivalry Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. They have a chance to create separation from the Steelers (2-2-1). A loss would extend their streak of futility, leave the division wide open, and reinforced the notion that the Bengals can’t get away from their history.
Not that they even care to talk about it.
“The history doesn’t matter because the history hasn’t been in our favor,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said Wednesday.
That’s an understatement. The rivalry isn’t history as much as a horror story for Cincinnati, strewn with incredible comebacks — all by the Steelers — and ugly moments that made even players wonder if it was getting out of hand.
The story has different plot twists, but always the same ending.
“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,” linebacker Preston Brown said.
It’s not only lately, either. The Steelers have won nine of 10 and 14 of 17 in the series. The Bengals are 8-24 against the Steelers under coach Marvin Lewis, including 2-15 at Paul Brown Stadium with a pair of playoff losses seared into franchise history.
During the 2005 season, Carson Palmer’s left knee was torn on his first pass by Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit, and Pittsburgh won 31-17. Ten years later, the Steelers came to town twice and the rivalry took an ugly turn.
Players had nasty social media exchanges leading to their game on Dec. 13, 2015, and several got into a scrum at midfield during warmups . Andy Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand while making a tackle after an interception. The Steelers went on to win 33-20, starting the streak of six straight Pittsburgh victories.
They returned for the first round of the playoffs, and AJ McCarron had the Bengals in position to finish off their first postseason victory in a quarter of a century. Jeremy Hill fumbled, Vontaze Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the head on an incompletion, Adam “Pacman” Jones bumped an official, and the Steelers took advantage of the meltdown for an 18-16 win on Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.
“The one that everybody remembers,” Brown called it. “I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to say nothing about it. We all know the playoff game and what happened.”
The Steelers swept the series in 2016, including a 24-20 win at Paul Brown Stadium that eliminated the Bengals from playoff contention and ended their streak of five straight postseason appearances. The Bengals blew a 17-3 lead and gained only 38 yards in the second half.
Last year, the Bengals managed only 19 yards in the second half of a 29-14 loss at Heinz Field. The Steelers also won the rematch 23-20 at Paul Brown Stadium on a Monday night game that included the Bengals blowing a 17-0 lead and players getting flagged for egregious hits. Boswell’s 38-yard field goal on the final play completed another big Steelers comeback.
In the aftermath, JuJu Smith-Schuster got a one-game suspension for decking Burfict and then standing over him. Bengals safety George Iloka got a one-game suspension that was later reduced to a $36,464.50 fine for hitting Brown in the head.
There were four penalties for unnecessary roughness, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, one for taunting, one for roughing the passer and two 15-yard penalties for grabbing the facemask. Cincinnati set a club record with 173 yards in penalties.
Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier was hurt in that game as well, suffering a spinal injury while making a tackle.
And now, they’re getting back together again.
“We’ve seen the past, what’s happened in the past,” Dunlap said, “but the past is the past now.”
Running back Giovani Bernard worked out on a side field wearing a knee brace Wednesday. He sat out a 27-17 win over Miami on Sunday with the knee injury. Receiver John Ross had a limited practice after sitting out a win over the Dolphins with a groin injury. Guard Clint Boling (hip) and tight end Tyler Kroft (foot) also were held out of practice.
The Bengals signed tight end Matt Lengel off Houston’s practice squad and added safety Demetrious Cox to the practice squad.