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Cincinnati Bengals demolish rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a landscape-changing win

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) looks for an open receiver before running the...
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) looks for an open receiver before running the ball in for a touchdown in the first quarter of the NFL Week 12 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.(Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Nov. 28, 2021 at 4:37 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (Cincinnati Enquirer) - Before the Cincinnati Bengals first game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton stood at the front of the room at the Westin hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Since Hilton played the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Steelers, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had Hilton give the pregame speech before the Bengals first matchup of the year against their biggest rival.

Hilton, who had a front-row seat for the Bengals downfall in the late 2010s, told the rest of the team about the magnitude of the Bengals rivalry with Pittsburgh. He told the Bengals players about how the Steelers “stabbed him in the back” when they didn’t re-sign him at the end of the 2020 season.

Then Hilton told the rest of the Bengals roster that the best way for the team to prove that it could compete in 2021 would be to sweep Cincinnati’s biggest rival. Two months later, the Bengals finished the sweep of the season series with a 41-10 win over the Steelers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) celebrates a deep interception return in the first...
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) celebrates a deep interception return in the first quarter of the NFL Week 12 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.(Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer)

For every step forward and step back the Bengals have made over the last 20 years, Pittsburgh has been a main character in the story. In 2005, the Steelers knocked former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer out of the playoffs and eliminated Cincinnati in the first round.

In 2013, the Steelers dominated the Bengals on Sunday Night Football and knocked Bengals punter Kevin Huber out of the game with one of the defining hits of the rivalry.  In 2015, the Steelers embarrassed the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs in a game that had one of the worst collapses in Cincinnati’s history.

After that game, the Bengals went five years without beating the Steelers. A last-second loss to Pittsburgh in 2018 marked the beginning of the end for former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. In 2019, former Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton gave the Bengals a reason to move in a new direction with his performance against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.

All of those losses and all of those failures against Pittsburgh led the Bengals to Zac Taylor, Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and the rest of a completely rebuilt roster. It led the Bengals to Sunday’s win over the Steelers.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) catches a touchdown pass as Pittsburgh...
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) catches a touchdown pass as Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback James Pierre (42) defends in the second quarter during a Week 12 NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.(Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer)

The Bengals started with a perfect first half. Burrow completed 14 of his first 16 passes, including a perfectly placed deep ball to wide receiver Tee Higgins that went for a touchdown. Running back Joe Mixon had 117 yards and a touchdown before halftime as the Bengals offensive line dominated the game.

Bengals cornerback Eli Apple intercepted a pass on the Steelers first drive of the game, and Hilton closed the half with a pick-six against his former team. After the Bengals beat the Steelers in Week 3, Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said the Steelers players “quit” during the second half. In the second matchup of the year, the Bengals had a 31-3 lead at halftime.

On both sides of the ball, Cincinnati looked exactly like the team that the Bengals have said they’ve wanted to be over the last three seasons. The Bengals offense established the run and set the tone with physical runs from Mixon, who had a career-high 165 rushing yards. After bending the Steelers defense, Burrow found wide-open receivers down the field.

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) carries the ball in the second quarter during a...
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) carries the ball in the second quarter during a Week 12 NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.(Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer)

The result was a moment the Bengals have been seeking for most of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 18-year NFL career. Cincinnati has now won three straight games against Pittsburgh for the first time since 1990. The Bengals have a brighter future than their biggest rival.

With Roethlisberger nearing the end of his career and Burrow just getting started, the Bengals haven’t had such an advantage over their biggest rival in the Paul Brown Stadium Era.

As Hilton told the Bengals, the AFC North has always gone through Pittsburgh. With one of the Bengals biggest goals behind them, the only thing left for them to achieve is making the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates his first-quarter touchdown run against...
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates his first-quarter touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.(Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer)

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