Many hold that a rivalry can only exist between two relatively equal adversaries. It’s not a rivalry if one is dominant over the other—which is perhaps why the Pittsburgh Steelers’ contests against the Baltimore Ravens have tended to be regarded more highly than those against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati went several years in the not-too-distant past without winning a single game against the Steelers. They have recently turned the tide, yet it feels as though they are still experiencing a period in which they feel they have to prove themselves. And it seems that’s how it comes across on the field.
Both tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry appeared on the Steel Here podcast this offseason. Both were asked which team they hate to play the most. Both of them named the Bengals. Gentry was hesitant to pick Cincinnati too just because he would be repeating Freiermuth, but the fact that he did demonstrates that there’s really only one answer to the question.
“It’s just true. There’s a lot of shit-talking on the field when we play them. It seems like it’s a little more physical”, he said of the Steelers-Bengals games. “The Ravens are the same way, but it’s different. It feels like there’s a little bit more respect there between the Ravens and the Steelers on the field. A little less jawing, but definitely physical. It feels like there’s a lot of shit-talking lately in the Bengals games, so I’d probably have to say them”.
Cincinnati has had the upper hand over the past few years, winning four of the past five games, beginning with that JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble game in December of 2020. Since then, Pittsburgh has only gotten won win, in the 2022 season opener.
The Bengals looked like a team still finding their footing in that one, with quarterback Joe Burrow missing time due to an appendectomy and a newly-formed offensive line coming together but clearly not quite there. Facing T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward proved to be a tough first test.
Yet we can even go back to the days of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones for the beginning of the most recent timeline when tempers really began to rise. Just recall David DeCastro meeting Burfict in the hole in a head-on collision, and another time driving him into the ground out of anger.
Those guys are gone, but this is a new Bengals team that won’t play little brother anymore. I’m not sure if they even have anybody left from those teams, but the organizational reputation persists. There is really no debate about that when we hear it from the players’ own mouths.