Over the course of the past couple of seasons, the tone of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ contests with the Cincinnati Bengals has slowly taken a more hostile and aggressive tone, wherein we very nearly got a glimpse of the rivalries of old, when teams truly disliked one another.
While I won’t place any sort of positive or negative value on that aspect, at least from a football perspective, it does appear that that is washing away this year. It used to be that players from a team would refuse to sign with their rivals in free agency. Now there seems to be no bad blood between former Bengal Wallace Gilberry and the Steelers, one of the prime movers in the hostilities last year.
It seems that even some of the Bengals themselves were surprised by what they saw from their own team in hindsight. Fifth-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick essentially said as much to reporters when he was discussing the playoff game between the Steelers and Bengals last year.
“I watched the film, and every play it was something”, he said. “Every play. It was to the point where I was like, ‘We really was doing that?’ But hey, we know what kind of game it is, so we know what he have to go out there and do”.
And, apparently, what not to do. Kirkpatrick also talked about how the team worked through the offseason, “especially trying to get us prepared mentally and the focus of this game, just going out there and playing within the whistles”.
He talked about where they went wrong as a team last year, highlighting the mental lapses that cost them for no good reason over the course of the year, which is something that has plagued a generation of Bengals teams, if we are really being honest.
“Celebrating with your teammates, not taunting the others guys and just being professional” are some of the things that he talked about that the team has focused on. “I feel like we let a lot of things get away from us last year that we could control and we brought a lot of heat up on us”.
Kirkpatrick says that the Bengals view themelves as a group with a target on their backs, which, really, is not much different from the mentality that the Steelers of their most recent heyday carried with them, and still do to some degree—as long as James Harrison is still there as the straw that stirs the drink.
“We know the refs are going to be watching everything we do, so we just have to be a smart team, and I feel we prepared ourselves to be a smart team this year”, he said.
The proof of that will be in the pudding, and it will be really tested going up against the Steelers, who have grown to be their chief competition as they have vied for the AFC North crown the past couple of years and Pittsburgh knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago.