The rivalry between the Bengals and Steelers has been called one of the nastiest in the league, and if Sunday’s matchup is any indication, that’s an accurate assessment.
It is not unusual to see a little extra pushing and shoving and words exchanged between the players, but this time, the two teams went at it before the game even began.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Steelers linebackers Vince Williams and James Harrison got into it with each other about 40 minutes before kickoff, and several other players from both sides jumped into the fray before coaches and officials were able to separate the teams. There was a lot of shoving and a few punches thrown.
Williams had threated Burfict on Twitter following the Bengals’ 16-10 win at Pittsburgh in reaction to the way Burfict celebrated his tackle of Le’Veon Bell, which resulted in the Pittburgh running back suffering a season-ending knee injury. His Tweet — which said “I catch Vontze on south beach im painting that boi on sight” — later was deleted, but not before Burfict responded with a “why wait?”
Bengals players, after the 33-20 loss, said the NFL didn’t properly handle that situation, which led to the pregame scrum.
“It’s the NFL’s fault,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Bottom line is I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, I love Mike Tomlin, but they had a player that made a death threat to one of ours after the last game about spilling his blood in the streets and everyone saw it, and the NFL did nothing about it. And so they allowed there to be that kind of animosity and that kind of thing around.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said “it crossed the line.”
“Just how the whole situation was handled, I felt like that guy should have been fined for what he said to Vontaze over the internet,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s what starts it.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin indicated the Bengals started the pregame fight by crossing onto the Steelers side of the field during warm-ups.
“I’m not worried about that,” said Tomlin, who also noted his players defend themselves aggressively. “We’re on our side of the 50-yard line warming up and the confrontation happened. You come into our area, there’s going to be a confrontation. We were in our proper place.”
The drama continued into the game, as well.
On the second play from scrimmage, Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown hit Kirkpatrick on the helmet and Kirkpatrick retaliated to account for the first two of five unnecessary roughness calls for the game. Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Atwon Blake also were called for personal fouls in the first half, and Burfict had one in the fourth quarter.
Brown also was penalized for an illegal crackback, as the teams combined for nine penalties.
“It’s always going to be chippy like that,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “That’s just the name of this AFC North game.”
Defensive end Michael Johnson was disappointed in how the Bengals allowed the Steelers to get in their heads, though.
“I don’t think we stayed poised the way our coaches wanted us to,” he said. “We have to keep our composure. The game is won between the whistles, not with pushes and shoves and being tough guys. That doesn’t win ball games. We have to do a better job of controlling that. We have the talent on this team to do whatever we want. The only way we don’t do that is if we stop ourselves with silly stuff. We have to stay composed and keep our poise and just do a better job of that going forward. Pittsburgh did a good job of getting us off our game, so good job by them.”
Marvin Lewis said the chippiness “didn’t help” the Bengals.
“We’ve got to play NFL football,” Lewis said. “We had a good (officiating) crew today to handle that. I think they did a good job right from the start, and getting involved. But we’ve got to focus and play. You don’t play football with your doggone mouth, you’ve got to play with your pads.”