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Steelers' Coty Sensabaugh expects last game vs. Bengals to carry over

Joe Rutter
| Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, 6:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Coty Sensabaugh is curious to see what the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals can muster for an encore.

In his first true involvement in the Steelers-Bengals series, Sensabaugh last December played in a game that featured jaw-rattling hits, blindside blocks, concussions, personal fouls of every variety, a notorious taunting penalty and an overall level of brutality that led to two suspensions (one overturned) and had national broadcasters reeling in disgust.

Oh, and there was that spinal cord injury to Ryan Shazier on a seemingly innocent tackle that left the star linebacker temporarily paralyzed and unable to play this season.

“It was different, for sure,” Sensabaugh, a veteran cornerback who is in his second year with the Steelers, said Monday. “I don’t think words can describe it. You have to be a part of it.”

The Steelers return to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for the first time since that December showdown that featured 20 combined penalties for 239 yards. Will the physicality carry over to a new season or do the Steelers expect to enter the game with a clean slate?

“What do you think?” Sensabaugh said. “I think it will definitely carry over. We don’t like them. They don’t like us. It’s not some big unknown.”

Other veterans on the roster who have more experience in the rivalry are hoping sanity prevails when the 2-2-1 Steelers visit the 4-1 Bengals with a chance to crawl closer to the AFC North leaders.

“I don’t think there should be bad blood or vendettas other than trying to win the game,” said guard Ramon Foster, a 10-year veteran. “We’ll feel it out and dip our toe in the water first before we make anything out of it. I don’t think those guys hold anything over us or us them. It’s just a wait-and-see game more than anything.”

That sentiment was echoed by defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who is entering his fifth season of the Steelers-Bengals matchups.

“We’ll definitely be ready for whatever they throw at us,” Tuitt said. “Make sure we keep our calm and play the game that we are supposed to play. Nobody try to do extra stuff. At the end of the day, we go in and try to win a football game.”

That was supposed to be the gameplan last season when the Steelers took a 9-2 record and six-game winning streak into December. There also was lingering animosity from the Week 7 game at Heinz Field when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict kicked fullback Roosevelt Nix in the head just a few plays into the game.

What happened in the rematch, which was witnessed by a national TV audience on Monday Night Football, led to announcer Sean McDonough calling it an “ugly night” and analyst Jon Gruden saying, “I don’t like seeing that kind of football.”

In a game the Steelers would rally to win, 23-20, on a last-second field goal, six players were knocked out because of injuries, four from the Bengals. Running back Joe Mixon and Burfict left with concussions, the latter occurring when Steelers rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered a vicious blind-side block. Smith-Schuster then stood over the fallen Burfict and was flagged for taunting.

Bengals safety George Iloka delivered a head shot to Antonio Brown on a touchdown reception that helped the Steelers rally from 17-3 and 20-10 deficits.

Smith-Schuster and Iloka were suspended, but the Bengals safety had his punishment converted to a fine upon appeal, which infuriated the Steelers.

Ten months have passed since that game and some circumstances have changed. Iloka no longer plays for the Bengals, who are the surprise leaders of the division with their best start since 2015. The Steelers, this time, are playing catchup after an unexpected slow start.

Other things remain the same. Burfict returned from a four-game suspension Sunday and will be available against the Steelers.

“They are in a better spot than we are right now, which is why I think it will be more about football than anything,” Foster said. “There are no motives. Both teams have their issues. Both teams are trying to be at the top of the division. They got a good start on it, so I don’t think they will be doing anything that’s detrimental to their success right now.”

The NFL’s crackdown on plays involving the use of the helmet and an emphasis on penalizing virtually every hit to a quarterback also could provide a form of checks and balances that was lacking in December.

“It probably will be a tight-called game,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “There’s a lot of animosity between the teams. You have to make smart plays. Don’t be the instigator. Just go out and play with your head above water.”

But will it be water under the bridge come Sunday? Some habits, after all, are hard to break.

“The Steelers-Bengals showdown always is a fun one to watch,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “I know everyone will be riled up for this one.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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