The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens enjoyed an extended period in which they were universally regarded as the most physical rivalry in all of the NFL. Both teams have become more finesse since then, but still put up physical fights when they face one another.
But no rivalry is perhaps nastier than that between the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, which, aside from the specific players on the roster that foster that type of environment, would seem to stem from a little brother complex, Cincinnati being the submissive of the pair, watching the Steelers win division titles, and knock them out of the playoffs in the rare instances that they do get there.
Now, for the first time since the 2015 season, the Bengals are coming in with the better record, 4-1 and playing host to the 2-2-1 Steelers. Will they be able to avoid some of the amateurish non-football behavior that has hurt them in the past? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not taking his chances.
“I always feel like when I go into that game, you’ve got to watch yourself”, he said during his weekly radio spot yesterday. “There’s one thing about being physical. We’ve talked about that Baltimore game, and we’ve talked about it on this show before, so I’m not saying anything that I haven’t said before”.
You all know, I’m sure, just what Roethlisberger is referring to. He alone has been injured on a number of occasions in recent years playing against the Bengals, particularly by Vontaze Burfict. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown know as well.
“When you play Baltimore and things like that, that’s a physical football game. In the past when we’ve played Cincinnati, you feel like you’ve got to watch yourself”, the quarterback went on. “And not just because of physicality, but because of the extra stuff, extracurricular hits, things that happen”.
He did call for peace, though. “I wish it wasn’t that way”, he told his hosts. “I hope maybe we can turn over a new leaf and just play a physical football game and afterwards you shake hands and help each other up and say ‘hey, we’ll see you next time’. We’ll have to wait and see”.
But Roethlisberger knows that it has been no easy task. JuJu Smith-Schuster was suspended after hitting Burfict on an unintentionally illegal block, but the linebacker had already been involved in an incident or two before that.
“When someone cheapshots you or there’s something dirty that happens, or there’s extracurricular stuff that happens, yeah it’s really hard [not to retaliate], and you have to do your best to walk away”, Roethlisberger said.
“You have to do your best to cool your guys down, tell them to move on or whatever, however you want to say it. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but sometimes you’ve got to be the bigger man [because] it always seems like it’s the second guy that gets the penalty”.