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The BTSC Delorean: Looking back at the most memorable Steelers vs. Bengals contests

BTSC takes a ride down memory lane and recalls the most epic Steelers vs. Bengals contests

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Do the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a long and storied history? They do now. The rivalry dates back to 1970, and the series includes 106 games. No matter the record of either team, they both always seem to put on a fantastic show with great storylines attached. The Steelers hold a big advantage in the series with a record of 67-38, including 2 playoff victories over the men in stripes. However, the Bengals are defending AFC Champs and have won three-straight in the rivalry.

Here’s a brief tale of the tape:

Points: Bengals 1,875, Steelers 2,332

Wins: Steelers 68, Bengals 38

Home Record: Steelers 35-17, Bengals 32-22

Shutouts: 2 - Steelers 15, Bengals 0 (10/15/00), Steelers 20, Bengals 0 (10/19/92)

Biggest Win Margin: 11/6/1988 - Bengals 42, Steelers 7

Closest Game: Bengals 17, Steelers 16 (10/12/1980), Steelers 7, Bengals 6 (11/19/1978)

Overtime Games: 5 - Steelers 4-1, Bengals 1-4

Postseason Record: Steelers 2, Bengals 0

November 2, 1970 - Steelers 21, Bengals 10

The very first entry in the diary of the Steelers-Bengals rivalry, a legendary coach squared off against a young up-and-comer. It was Paul Brown’s 1-5 Bengals facing Chuck Noll and the 2-4 Steelers during the first season of Monday Night Football. The football royalty that was Brown got the upper hand on his former player early in the second quarter when Eric Crabtree hauled-in a two-yard pass from Virgil Carter and Horst Muhlmann chipped in the point after. But the Steelers would counter on a halfback pass from mainstay Dick Hoak to Dennis Hughes from 27 yards away. Hughes (2 catches for 99 yards and 2 TDs) would prove to be the Steelers weapon of choice that night, when down 10-7 in the fourth, the tight end took a pass from Terry Hanratty 72 yards to the end zone to put the black and gold ahead for good. Adding one on for good measure was Warren Bankston, who had a two-yard scoring run late in the fourth to set the final at 21-10. Andy Russell and Chuck Allen came away with interceptions for Pittsburgh, but if there was a Madden Cruiser back in the day, Dennis Hughes’ image would be adorning the side of it on a night when the student (Noll), would defeat the master.

October 17, 1976 - Steelers 23, Bengals 6

The Super Bowl Hangover was real for the 1976 Steelers at 1-4 and coming off of the loss of Terry Bradshaw due to the infamous “Turkey Joe Jones” incident in Cleveland the week before. With the task of facing the 4-1 Bengals with rookie Mike Kruczek at quarterback, many were calling for time of death for the 1976 season of the two-time defending champs. But ‘76 is considered to be the finest performance ever for the vaunted Steel Curtain and Chuck Noll would rely on said defense and a pounding running game led by Franco Harris (143 yds and 2 TDs), who would set an NFL single-game record with 41 carries.

The Bengals would score first courtesy of a 22-yard Chris Bahr field goal. But then the Steelers would close out the half with 13 unanswered points after two Roy Gerela field goals (42,40) and a Franco Harris 1-yard touchdown run. The Bengals would kick off the scoring again in the second half with another Bahr kick, but another Franco Harris 1-yard touchdown run, and another Gerela field goal from 30 would close out the scoring. Andy Russell would get two of the Steelers five sacks of Ken Anderson, and Glen Edwards would get a pick of the Cincinnati quarterback, as the Steelers would squelch the high-powered offense of the Bengals. But the big story was Jack Lambert who would haunt the dreams of the team from the Queen City with an interception, a fumble that he forced and recovered, and as a bodyguard for Kruczek (5 for 12 for 58 yards and 1 INT) by exacting revenge on Bo Harris after a late hit on the Steelers rookie signal caller with a shove of his own from the sideline. The win would propel the black and gold to ten straight wins before succumbing to Oakland in the AFC Championship Game.

October 12, 1980 - Bengals 17, Steelers 16

Boy, if anybody wanted the 70s to end when it came to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, it would have been the Queen City’s Bengals, as the Steelers enjoyed an 18-game home winning streak against their AFC Central rivals. Losers in Week 3 at Cincy, the defending champs were looking to avenge their only loss of the season in the comfort of Three Rivers. The game was bizarre from the very beginning with Theo Bell and Jim Smith replacing injured starters Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Cincinnati’s situation was even more interesting. With star Isaac Curtis out, the Bengals were forced to start punter Pat McInally at wide receiver. Disaster would almost strike twice on the first two plays as Bradshaw fumbled the ball on consecutive snaps with his team luckily retaining possession. Weirdness continued on the second series with Bradshaw finding luck again with his pass deep in his own territory, intercepted by Ken Riley, was negated. Needing to punt, the Steelers Craig Colquitt whiffed and drop the ball, retrieved it, and knowing that it would be blocked, No. 5 took off and looked like a running back and ran for the first down. But like a running back, Colquitt was hammered and needed help to get off of the playing surface with a foot injury. With the Steelers needing to punt, Terry Bradshaw assumed said duties and got off a 44-yard punt. The Bengals would then storm out to a 17-0 halftime lead behind a Charles Alexander touchdown run, Ian Sunter’s 25-yard carom field goal set up by Glen Cameron’s pick of Bradshaw, and a Pete Johnson 28-yard score on a pass from future Steelers Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks coach, Kenny Anderson. The Steelers Matt Bahr must have thought that he was playing H-O-R-S-E with Sunter because his field goal attemt hit the same left upright, but he didn’t get the carom in. H for Bahr.

The Steelers would get it going in the second half when Mel Blount intercepted an Anderson pass and lateralled it to Jack Ham to give the black and gold the ball at the 32. The Blonde Bomber found Calvin Sweeney down the sideline, and rookie Russell Davis plowed in from the one to make the score 17-6. 6? Yes, Matt Bahr’s point after was blocked by Mike White, so since Sunter had two PATs go through, the second-year man from Penn State gets the O and R. The defense held Kenny Anderson and friends on the next series and got the ball back via a punt and a touchdown ensued. After a great return by Bell, Bradshaw got aggressive through the air by going to Sweeney and Smith. Then found No. 86 Smith with a gorgeous ball in the face of a blitz for a 13-yard tally. With less than seven minutes gone in the third, the yinzer favorites were only down 17-13. On their next possession after a nice punt return by Sweeney, Matt Bahr raised his field goal percentage over 50% with a field goal of 35 yards and a 17-16 score. Great defense by both teams and fantastic punting by TB12 was a big story of the fourth quarter. But controversy would make the front page as well. Anderson went back to pass and threw over the middle to McInally who got lit up by Ron Johnson and getting the ball jarred loose in the process. Donnie Shell picked up the ball and had a full head of steam, but whistles blew and the play was ruled dead and an incomplete pass. For the Steelers, a major opportunity snatched away. In the final moments of the contest, Bradshaw led a masterful two-minute drill to the Bengals 20. But with time draining from the game clock, Bahr missed a 39-yarder, wide right and short. Despite Sunter missing two second-half kicks himself, blowing a chance to win the game at the gun gives Bahr the S and E to spell H-O-R-S-E and the loss for the Steelers. Chuck Noll’s team would finish the season at 9–7, to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1971.

September 19, 1982 - Steelers 26, Bengals 20 (OT)

With the NFL and the NFL Players Association headed for a 57-day layoff that would diminish the 1982 season from 16 weeks to nine, a pair of 1-0 AFC Central rivals who underwent a role-reversal since the Reagan-era began, met at Three Rivers Stadium. The Bengals were the defending AFC champions featuring the defending NFL Player of the Year in QB Kenny Anderson, Coach of the Year in Steelers Forrest Gregg, and a battering ram of a running back named Pete Johnson against a team that still had some holdovers from those legendary Super Bowl winning squads. With nobody having a clue when there would be actual football again, 2-0 was paramount to seize early control of the division for both alpha teams, and with four-straight wins over their rivals from Steeltown, the Queen City Big Cats had a decided advantage.

The Bengals seemed determined not to let Terry Bradshaw carve them up like he did in Week 1 in an upset win over Dallas on Monday Night Football, but he did with a scoring drive that culminated with the 13-year vet doing the scoring samba with his favorite target, John Stallworth, on a slant pass from 15-yards away. Gary Anderson’s point-after made the score 7-0 just like that. Eager to counter, Kenny Anderson went on a long and calculated drive that featured three passes to Chris Collinsworth, however the first two were complete to No. 80, the third was intercepted by No. 31, Donnie Shell, after being tipped by Dwayne Woodruff to thwart the drive. But the Cincy defense was not going to let any aspect of the home offense to get going and went on shutdown mode. In fact, Franco Harris and his stable of runners were limited to only 29 yards on the ground for the day. But the Steelers defense was smothering as well, as Shell thieved Anderson’s long pass at the Steelers 2 to stop another drive. Anderson would get the Bengals on track though as Jim Breech’s 50 yard field goal with about a minute to play in the half. The 7-3 score would not hold though, as a Fred Bohannon return of the ensuing kick for 57 yards, a Greg Hawthorne catch, and a personal foul saw the Steelers at the 8 with one last chance before the half set up rookie Gary Anderson’s 25 yard field for a 10-3 halftime advantage.

Coming out of the locker room and fired up, the Bengals executed a long drive, and were looking to tie it up. With what appeared to be a goal-line stand and turnover-on-downs at the 1, was deemed a touchdown as the eyes of the refs, but not 412 fans, would see that Pete Johnson broke the plane of the goal to make the score 10-10. The Steelers would answer right back when a great 26 yard catch-and-run by the heaviest tight end in the league, Bennie Cunningham, set up a 2-yard scoring toss from Bradshaw to Big Bennie.

In the fourth, big and burly Pete Johnson’s 9-yard rumble made the score an even 17 all and then a Jim Breech 31-yard field goal gave Cincinnati their first lead of the afternoon after a Dan Ross, Johnson and Collinsworth-dominated drive got the visitors in position for the kick and the 20-17 with 4:34 left in the September contest at Three Rivers. Then Franco Harris, who wasn’t gaining much on the ground, cut his 10th and 11 passes of the day to help set up Gary Anderson 42-yard field goal to tie it up at 20-20. However, the Bengals had :35 seconds, and it was more than enough time for Anderson to move his tiger boys down into Breech’s range. But the Men of Steel remnants saved the day by blocking the field goal with Dwayne Woodruff lateraling to Mel Blount. Blount nearly took it all the way to the house, but was tripped up, with the game leaking into overtime.

Cincinnati got the ball first in the overtime period and almost immediately loses it when Anderson is picked off by Woodruff, who takes it to the 2. Game over, right? Terry Bradshaw wanted to immediately kick the field goal because of ball security issues. Chuck Noll was hesitant to trot a rookie kicker out there because of having been bit by David Trout a year before in Seattle. Both legends compromised and conceded to do what neither wanted to do, and that was pass. John Stallworth was wide open for the triumphant touchdown and the Steelers rolled into a 57-day layoff at 2-0.

October 19, 1992 - Steelers 20, Bengals 0

After a down decade against their rivals from Riverfront, the Steelers regained their supremacy over the Cincinnati Bengals and 1992 was the epitome of one-sided, Steel City dominance. The home team got on the board right away with a Gary Anderson field goal, but a Dwight Stone drop deprived the Steelers of four more points. It also deprived No. 20 of a three-score game, as the speedster scored twice on TD receptions from Neil O’Donnell (24, 5) while adding a long run of 30. Barry Foster (108 yards) and Jeff Graham (7 catches for 115 yards) led the Steelers on the ground and in the air. While the Steelers offense was storming, the defense was swarming, allowing only 118 total yards. The black and gold Blitzburgers didn’t intercept Boomer Esiason, but sacks by Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, and Hardy Nickerson, along w fumble recoveries by Jerroll Williams and Sammy Walker kept the Bengals off the scoreboard and never in the contest.

October 19, 1995 - Bengals 27, Steelers 9

It’s hard to believe that the Steelers ended up in the Super Bowl after such a horrid start to the 1995 season. At 3-3, the Steelers begrudgingly welcomed the 2-4 Bengals in for a primetime Thursday Night Football matchup on ABC. Despite O’Donnell and the offense moving the ball well. the game went scoreless until midway through the second quarter due to two rare Norm Johnson missed field goals. Jeff Blake dropped the bomb of 49 yards over Alvoid Mays perfectly into the mitts of Darnay Scott for a 7-0 lead. After both teams traded field goals to close out the half, Blake came out of the locker room firing and his 12-yard completion to Tony McGee extended the lead to 17-7 but the Steelers could only answer with a Johnson field goal (25 yards). Blake would put more distance between the teams on the scoreboard with another long scoring pass, this time to Carl Pickens from 31 out. But again, the Steelers could only answer with a Johnson field goal (38 yards). A final Doug Pelfrey field goal, a couple of turnovers-on-downs, and an O’Donnell INT were the final ingredients for a crumb cake of a game. Despite outgaining the Bengals by 100 yards, the Steelers could not reach the end zone in the game. O’Donnell’s performance of 30/52 for 359 yards and an interception-thrown was sullied by not getting the ball into the end zone with at least five opportunities to do so. The embarrassment must have triggered something in Bill Cowher’s team that night as a major winning streak followed. I guess getting whipped by the team that fans referred to as “the Bungles” provides plenty of motivation.

December 28, 2014 - Steelers 27, Bengals 14

In the middle part of the 2010’s, the Steelers and Bengals had some intense battles. This one had major implications on the final week of the 2014 season with the Bengals coming in at 10-4-1 and the host Steelers trailing at 10-5 with the division on the line and the loser on the road in the postseason. With Ben Roethlisberger battling a flu bug, the Steelers first drive ended in a punt, with the Bengals seemingly suffering the same fate. But it would be worse as Antonio Brown fielded Kevin Huber’s punt and took it 71 yards into the Heinz Gield night for a 7-0 lead. Driving deep, the Andy Dalton was on the verge of the equalizer, but Brice McClain stepped in front of A.J. Green for the interception at the Steelers 2. The Nati would get on the board the next time they touched the ball though as Dalton finished a drive with a 17-yard collaboration with Giovani Bernard, and capitalize on a Ray Maualuga fumble recovery of Ben with a Mike Nugent field goal to take a 10-7 lead early in Quarter No. 2. But by the end of the half, the Steelers would score two Shaun Suisham field goals and get a touchdown pass of 21 yards from an ailing Ben to Martavis Bryant on the heels of McClain’s second pick of the night.

In the second, the defense of the Bengals would continue their haunting of Roethlisberger, with Reggie Nelson picking off No. 7 deep in Cincy territory. On the following possession, Dalton drove his team down the field for seven to close the score to 20-17 with a pass to Jermaine Gresham. But despite a bizarre interception on a fake by Steelers punter Brad Wing, the Men of Steel would make the big play on defense when Antwon Blake forced and recovered a fumble by Steeler tormentor A.J. Green at the Pittsburgh 30. Energized by that big turnover, Roethlisberger (24/38 for 317 yds and 2 TDs) would close out the contest with a 63-yard deep throw to AB (7 catches for 128 yards, 2 TDs) for a glorious end zone celebration. Ben would finishing the season with 4,952 yards and the passing title, but would lose the services of the team’s MVP Le’Veon Bell in this game on a questionable low shot to the knees by Nelson. The win over Cincy was great, but the cost was fatal to the Steelers’ Super Bowl hopes, as the absence of No. 26 was too much to overcome the next week in the playoffs.

November 15, 2020 - Steelers 36, Bengals 10

In the third, Ben Roethlisberger’s second possession of the half was a thing of mastery. No. 7 thrived on third down situations with completions to Smith-Schuster and Claypool to move the chains. Ben’s red-zone pass to the rookie Claypool made the score 29-7 with 4:19 left in the third quarter. When a Ray-Ray McCloud punt return set up the Steelers’ offense inside the red-zone a few series later, Roethlisberger wasted very little time in finding Claypool on an inside slant for his fourth touchdown of the game. At 36-7 and with 10:31 left in regulation, the rout was on. A fake punt by the Bengals very late moved them well into Pittsburgh territory, but only netted a Randy Bullock field goal to end the scoring at 36-10 with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter. The defense had another stingy game with four sacks (two by T.J. Watt and two fumble recoveries), but it was Roethlisberger (27/36 for 333 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, and 0 sacks) who was in firm control the entire game, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers, mainly Smith-Schuster (9 receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown), Diontae Johnson (6 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown), and Chase Claypool (4 receptions for 56 yards and two touchdowns). It was the Steelers who ended the evening on top, but Joe Burrow held his own (21/40 for 213 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, and 4 sacks) and served notice to the Steelers and Big Ben that they all had company.