As long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the hatred between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be alive and well. These two teams have had one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL for many years and it has escalated in recent years. Their 2016 playoff game was the ugliest game of football I have ever witnessed. Between the endless number of personal fouls and dirty hits by both teams, the game spiraled into chaos before the Bengals eventually shot themselves in the foot due to a late Jeremy Hill fumble that gave one more chance to the Steelers to win the game. The regular season games since then have been chippy, but nowhere near this bad. However, the game last night was arguably worse than the playoff game due to illegal hits, penalties, and injuries.
The first half of the game Monday night was relatively clean for a heated divisional rivalry game. Le’Veon Bell picked up the only personal foul of the first half after getting into an altercation with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The reason for the lack of intensity and aggressiveness was likely due to the shocking injury of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was carted off with a spinal injury and was unable to move his legs after tackling with his head. The Steelers looked stunned without their defensive anchor and they struggled, ending the half down 17-3.
The second half was where the game got ugly for both teams. The Bengals were picking up penalties left and right and the hits delivered by both teams were starting to get harder. The intensity picked up tremendously as the game progressed. With the Bengals leading 20-10, Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster laid one of the most illegal blocks in the history of illegal blocks on Steelers’ #1 enemy, Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster channeled his inner Hines Ward when blocking and blindsided Burfict out of nowhere on a screen pass to Bell. Smith-Schuster then compounded the penalty by standing over Burfict and taunting him, receiving two 15-yard penalties on one play. Burfict was carted off with a head injury and was unable to return to the action.
As a Bengals fan, I have seen this movie one too many times. The Bengals have always been known for their utter lack of discipline on the field and it was only a matter of time before they retaliated for Burfict’s injury. With the Steelers in the red zone, Ben Roethlisberger took a shot into the end zone to Antonio Brown which was caught for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Bengals safety George Iloka came over the middle and hit Brown late and in the head and received a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff. Even the Bengals players who typically remain composed in tough situations committed bad penalties. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins decided to hit Ben Roethlisberger late on a play where all Ben could do was throw it away. Instead of forcing the third down, this stupid penalty gave the Steelers a first down and 15 yards. The Steelers would eventually win the game on a last-second field goal by kicker Chris Boswell to push their winning streak against the Bengals to six games.
This game was just another installment of a nasty, bitter rivalry that continues to get worse. These teams show up not with the desire to win, but rather the desire to injure and decimate the other team. This was evident last night on the hits by Smith-Schuster and Iloka. You can say whatever you want about Vontaze Burfict, but last night he was playing the right way and Smith-Schuster intended to injure him. George Iloka was clearly intending to get an unnecessary hit on star Antonio Brown. I am beyond tired of the antics between these two rivals because of their desire to kill and not win. Smith-Schuster and Iloka should both be suspended for multiple games for their actions because these kinds of plays can’t go unpunished anymore, especially not between these two teams. Disciplining these players with a chump change fine clearly isn’t going to cut it.
Watching Steelers-Bengals games has become intolerable for me and they should be unwatchable for all football fans. Unless you are a psychopath who is only watching football to see brutal head injuries, I recommend you stay away from future games between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as they are only going to get worse from here. Fans of both teams like to say that one is dirty but the other is not and this is a lie. Both teams are dirty when they face off and this trend needs to stop. The NFL desperately needs to suspend players like Smith-Schuster and Iloka if they want to have any control over what happens in future games of this rivalry.
Also, my thoughts go out to Ryan Shazier for that brutal injury. I wish him a speedy recovery and I hope he can return to the field soon because he is certainly one hell of a competitor.