The Steelers travel to Cincinnati for a prime-time clash against the division rival Bengals this Sunday evening, and if it's not a do or die game, it's pretty close. Pittsburgh is 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the AFC, and losing to the Bengals (3-3) would make for a very steep hill to climb over the remaining 10 weeks of the season.
How the Steelers will respond in their AFC North-opener is anyone's guess at this point, but I do know struggling on the road has become a "thing" for them, much like struggling to catch a football was a "thing" for Limas Sweed back in the day. Steelers fans might travel well, but that doesn't apply to their team these days, as the Black and Gold have started out 0-3 on the road this season and are 5-7 in their last 12 games, dating back to the start of the 2011 campaign.
Will the team ever rectify its road woes? Again, I don't know, but if there's ever been a place that has acted as a home away from home to the Steelers in recent years, it's Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Since the Bengals' current digs opened in 2000, Pittsburgh is 11-2 in 13 games played there, and the two games Cincinnati won were of the last-second variety, when the Steelers blew double-digit fourth quarter leads.
In December of 2001, the Steelers were leading Cincinnati, 23-10, before the Bengals scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game and eventually won it in overtime. And the Bengals only needed overtime because their kicker missed an extra point in the final moments of regulation.
In September of 2009, the Bengals had to rally from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to claim a 23-20 victory over Pittsburgh in the game's final seconds.
Other than those two blips, the Steelers have treated Paul Brown's turf as if it was a practice field at their South Side complex.
The Steelers' offense has looked very sloppy on the road recently, and it's one of the reasons the team has struggled away from home. However, over the course of their 13-game history at PBS, the Steelers have averaged nearly 25 points a game and have outscored Cincinnati 279-139 in their 11 triumphs.
A trip to Cincinnati in recent years has often been a visit that has set the Steelers back on course after some very trying times.
Here are some examples:
-In 2002, the Steelers looked to be in some serious trouble after a 1-3 start to the season. However, after a trip to Cincinnati and a 34-7 thrashing of the Bengals, Pittsburgh improved to 2-3 and would go on to win eight more games and the AFC North crown.
-A week removed from the annoying overtime loss to the Jaguars at Heinz Field in Week 6 of the 2005 season, the 3-2 Steelers traveled to Cincinnati to take on the upstart Bengals who were 5-1 and looking to make a name for themselves by knocking off the AFC North's perennial top dog. The Steelers weren't ready to give up their status just yet, and with the help of 221 will-imposing rushing yards, they showed Cincinnati what a true contender looked like in a 27-13 victory.
-Unfortunately, the Bengals really did have all the right ingredients to win the AFC North in 2005. In December of that year, Cincinnati walked into Heinz Field and left with a strangle-hold on the division title after a 38-31 victory. However, what you do in December is nice, but it's what happens in January that really counts. The wild card Steelers traveled to Cincinnati to play the Bengals in their first playoff game in 15 seasons. The Bengals jumped out to leads of 10-0 and 17-7 before Pittsburgh came storming back with 24-unanswered points in a 31-17 road victory that was just the first of three straight along the way to Super Bowl XL.
-And finally, just last season, the 6-3 Steelers were reeling after their heart-breaking loss to Baltimore at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football and had to travel to Cincinnati for another AFC North clash against the 6-2 Bengals. It was a back-and-forth battle, but Pittsburgh scored last and won 24-17. The Steelers jumped ahead of Cincinnati in the standings and stayed there the remainder of the season.
None of those previous clashes mean anything now, of course. After many years of being one of the laughingstocks of the NFL, the Bengals seem to be headed in the right direction--these aren't your father's Bungals any longer.
It would also be nice if Pittsburgh's offensive line was 100% while taking on a Bengals' front-seven that included defensive tackle Geno Atkins (six sacks) and defensive end Michael Johnson (five sacks).
However, regardless of Cincinnati's talent-level over the years--Palmer, Chad Johnson and Corey Dillon were once promising young players who couldn't find a way to beat the Steelers--Paul Brown Stadium has always been a safe-haven for Pittsburgh.
If ever there was a time for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers to go on a stress-free, male-bonding road trip, it's this weekend in Cincinnati; their home away from home.