Young Bengals trying to end Steelers’ domination of rivalry
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI- Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick knows what it’s like to think that victory is only a few seconds away, only to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers rally for another improbable win, and run off the field as thousands of their fans twirl towels in the stands.
Many of Kirkpatrick’s teammates haven’t been on the sideline for those blow-to-the-gut finishes, which might work to the Bengals’ advantage on Sunday as they revisit a rivalry that’s more of a horror story for Cincinnati.
The Bengals (4-1) have their youngest team in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons as they get ready to host the Steelers (2-2-1). Nineteen of them are in their first or second season – virtual newcomers to the one-sided series.
“It’s kind of good that some of these guys haven’t experienced it because we’re trying to go in with clear minds, clear everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “Just going out there and playing our game and not (remembering) nothing that happened two or three years ago, or last year.”
The Steelers know their history.
Pittsburgh has won six straight in the series , including an 18-16 victory in the first round of the 2015 playoffs that included an historic meltdown by the Bengals. The Steelers have won nine of 10 and 14 of 17 against their AFC North rival, getting the better of games that have often turned nasty.
“Yeah, you get amped up there,” Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree said. “It’s their house. They’re trying to be so tough.”
Some of the main figures in the most memorable games are gone. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back after sitting out the first four games on his latest NFL suspension, but cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones left after last season. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is holding out.
“Many of the significant contributors don’t play for us (anymore), they don’t play for them,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
The Steelers are 24-8 against the Bengals since they hired Marvin Lewis as coach in 2003. They’re 15-2 at Paul Brown Stadium during that span, including playoff wins in the 2005 and 2015 seasons. During their current six-game winning streak against Cincinnati, the Steelers have overcome deficits of 17-3 and 17-0. They have two last-minute wins.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury at Paul Brown Stadium last Dec. 4 when he lowered his helmet and tackled receiver Josh Malone. Shazier was taken to a local hospital. Ten months later, he’s still recovering and it’s unclear whether he can ever play again. Shazier is on the sideline during games and is expected to be in Cincinnati with his teammates on Sunday.
Pittsburgh is known for its tenacious defense, but the Bengals have made some of the biggest plays this season. They’ve returned three turnovers for touchdowns, including an interception and a fumble in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 win over Miami on Sunday. The Bengals’ rotation on the line has kept them fresh for the endings of games.
“Guys were really, really getting after it, and it was fun to watch,” coordinator Teryl Austin said. “It makes the game easy to call when you know the guys are going to push the pocket back and get after the quarterback and harass the quarterback.”
ALIVE AND KICKING
A year after making the Pro Bowl for the first time, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell is struggling. He missed his third extra point of the season last week against Atlanta, matching his career high. It hasn’t been any easier for Boswell when it comes to field goals, where he is just 3 for 6. Still, Tomlin remains confident in Boswell, who signed a five-year contract before the season.
Boswell has never missed a kick against the Bengals, making all 11 extra-point tries and all 20 field goal attempts, including a pair of last-minute winners at Paul Brown Stadium.
“This guy has delivered for us a lot in the last few years, and I do not have amnesia in that regard,” Tomlin said. “He’s gotten me out of that stadium in Cincinnati a few times, and so I look forward to taking him to Cincinnati.”
CAMPAIGNING FOR CONNER
It could be Pittsburgh’s final game without Bell, who reportedly will end his standoff and sign a one-year franchise tag next week. Bell’s return could create an issue on how to split carries. James Conner has been solid while filling in. The second-year back is coming off a 185-yard from scrimmage, two-touchdown performance against Atlanta. Ben Roethlisberger believes Conner has done little to earn a demotion.
“I think James has done some amazing things and deserves to be on the football field,” Roethlisberger said. “We also know what Le’Veon is and what he brings to the table, so I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when it happens.”