As strange as it is for the Cincinnati Bengals to be preparing for a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Ben Roethlisberger isn’t even a member of the organization, it’s equally strange for the Steelers to be preparing for a game against the Bengals while riding a three-game losing streak against them.
Indeed, Pittsburgh is 0-3 against the defending AFC North champions, going back to the second matchup of the 2020 season, prior to which they held an 11-game winning streak dating back to 2015. A lot has changed since then, including Cincinnati stocking up on offensive talent.
Veteran safety Vonn Bell, though, recalls one moment from that second game in 2020 that he believes helped to set the tone for the success the team has seen since then. It’s that big hit on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster that forced a fumble. That was during the receiver’s TikTok dancing days, and Bell pretty much said he was going to do what he did in-game, and then did it. And that was that.
“It was a tone setter”, he told Charlie Goldsmith about that play, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Especially for this group and this organization. We kept feeding off that energy, and we keep on making bigger and better plays week in and week out”.
It was a 3rd-and-7 play near midfield late in the first quarter, the Bengals already up 3-0 at home. Bell laid a perfect hit on Smith-Schuster when he caught a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger, jarring the ball loose. The Bengals recovered at the Steelers’ 38 and marched down the field for the touchdown.
The game ended up 27-17, Cincinnati securing just its third victory of the year. Joe Burrow was already out for the rest of the season at that point, and his backup, Ryan Finley, threw for all of 89 yards. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t do much, either, despite a solid game from Benny Snell Jr. as a starter. Roethlisberger went 20-for-38 for 170 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It never became a one-score game again until five minutes to play, but Pittsburgh would never get beyond its own 27-yard line after that.
Now the Steelers went to the playoffs that year and the Bengals finished with four wins and one tie, but that season still helped to set up what we saw last year. A more mature Burrow, a rookie sensation in Ja’Marr Chase, and some prudent spending in free agency now has them regarded as one of the top teams in football.
They certainly looked it playing Pittsburgh last season. Both games ended with double-digit victories, first 24-10 and then a true blowout, 41-10. And it was 41-3 with three minutes left. It was an embarrassment.
But can they keep it going? Are the Bengals really the pride of the AFC North now? Exactly where are the Steelers situated? Is their quarterback position and offensive line too unsettled to hang with them? Could we be looking at a five-game losing streak? Perhaps if the Steelers can make a tone-setting play of their own on Sunday…