Kirkpatrick on Steelers rivalry

Bengals-Steelers not just another game, no matter what they say

It’s Pittsburgh week in Cincinnati, and you know what that means:

Same old, same old.

That’s the message many of the Bengals players and coaches are trying to convey this week, even though it flies in the face of reality as they prepare to face a Steelers team that sits 1.5 games in front of them in the AFC North and has dominated the series with seven wins in the last eight games, including the 2015 wildcard playoff game.

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“I feel like the city and everybody puts more into it than what it is,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “At the end of the day it’s just another football game.”

“For whatever reason,” head coach Marvin Lewis said, “there’s an excitement that builds up (for this game). We just have to stay within (ourselves) and play.”

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Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick echoed similar sentiments – “It’s not like the Super Bowl or anything like that” – before slipping in a comment that contradicts the whole “just another game” narrative.

“Today coach reiterated there are a lot of new guys in the room that kind of don’t know the history, kind of don’t know the magnitude of the game,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve got to carry those guys and carry everybody along.”

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Lewis confirmed the conversation in his weekly press conference.

“I recognized those guys this morning,” he said. “They all know the message.”

And what is that message?

“I’m not going to tell you,” Lewis said with a laugh.

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The Bengals have eight players on defense who have never played in a Bengals-Steelers game. One of them is defensive end Chris Smith, who spent his first three seasons in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars had their own division rivals – Indianapolis, Houston and Tennessee – but Smith said he can tell this one is different before even playing his first snap.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Mike Mitchell #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles Giovani Bernard #25 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half during the game at Heinz Field on September 18, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Photo: Staff Writer

“I didn’t know until I got traded that this rivalry is that big,” he said. “I heard things about it, but I didn’t know it was that intense. So I’m excited for the challenge. I’m ready to embrace the atmosphere.”

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That atmosphere is thick with tension and, especially in the last two years, penalties.

There were a combined 15 penalties for 190 yards in the last meeting, a 24-20 Pittsburgh win at PBS in Week 15 last year. And that’s not even the most flags or most penalty yards in the last five meetings.

There were 18 penalties for 221 yards in the wildcard playoff game, and 20 penalties for 185 yards in the Week 7 game in 2015, the one where the animosity soared to a new level after the Steelers took exception to what they thought was Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict celebrating after Le’Veon Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury.

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“In previous years I thought the media made more of it, but regardless of who made it what it is, this game is what it is,” Bengals safety George Iloka said. “It’s two teams that want the same thing. They’re physical, we’re physical. The same kind of guys we have in this locker room, they have in that locker room in terms of the aggression and the physical play. So that’s just why those types of things happen.”

Kirkpatrick compared it to brothers who get on each other’s nerves.

Iloka took a different spin.

“Naw, they’re not brothers,” he said. “ It’s that cousin that your parents invite over that you’re not really cool with, that’s what that is. They’re there for Thanksgiving dinner and you’re like, “Man, why did you all invite them this year?’ That type of thing.”

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