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Bengals notebook: McCarron recalls 2003 meeting with Roethlisberger

| Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, 7:18 p.m.

CINCINNATI — Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron is a huge fan of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It's been that way since McCarron slipped past security after the 2003 GMAC Bowl game in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., where Roethlisberger led Miami (Ohio) to a 49-28 win over Louisville.

Roethlisberger threw four first-half touchdown passes and had 376 yards passing in the game.

“After the game, I went under the stadium to the locker room and saw his mom, dad, sister and him,” McCarron said. “I remember him giving me a wristband and how cool it was. He started dying laughing when I told him how I remembered that.

“That's what is crazy about this. A young kid from Mobile, Ala, watched the GMAC Bowl, and later he's playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It's awesome.”

McCarron has no idea what became of the wristband.

“Ben said he remembers me,” McCarron said, “and it made me feel good.”

On Saturday night, McCarron will try to wrestle away an even bigger prize when the AFC North champions host the Steelers (10-6) in a wild-card game at Paul Brown Stadium.

With Andy Dalton expected to sit for the fourth consecutive week, it falls on McCarron to leave a lasting impression on Roethlisberger.

Rivalry is a rivalry

While the Bengals-Steelers matchup might be lacking the intensity of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, it's certainly captured McCarron's attention.

“I feel like I've played in some big games,” McCarron said. “I don't know which is bigger — playing in a national championship game or an NFL playoff game. I just look at it as a football game. I don't look deep into the rivalry.”

McCarron quarterbacked Alabama to back-to-back BCS national championships in his sophomore and junior seasons, beating LSU and Notre Dame, respectively.

“When we were at Alabama, we knew we were going to win,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “In the NFL, you have to fight, and AJ is a fighter.”

Keeping their composure

The Bengals committed a season-high 11 penalties during a 24-16 win over Baltimore last Sunday.

Even more troublesome for offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was an 0-for-9 effort on third down.

“The penalties pushed us into a lot of third and longs,” Jackson said. “That's AFC North football. It's rough, and everybody can't handle that. It's behind us now. The slate is clean, so whatever picture we paint starts this Saturday.”

Hard to imitate

Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said there's no way to simulate Roethlisberger's toughness in the pocket and his ability to extend plays.

However, he suggested coach Marvin Lewis use 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle Andy Whitworth to mimic Roethlisberger during practice.

“We want to put Whitworth on the scout team as a quarterback,” Dunlap said jokingly. “I'm going to try to tackle him, and that's how we'll prepare for Big Ben.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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