Steelers focused on not getting caught

The 2-10 Cincinnati Bengals are in town today with nothing to lose, but the front-running Steelers say they're ready for anything.

PITTSBURGH – The Cincinnati Bengals have played 10 December games in Pittsburgh and have come away with five wins.

But only one of those five victorious Bengals teams was as downtrodden as the 2-10 Bengals team that's coming to Heinz Field today.

Those 2-12 Bengals of 1998 beat a Steelers team that would finish the season as Bill Cowher's first losing team.

Today, the Steelers are 9-3 and standing on top of the AFC North after a signature win at Baltimore.

Of course, that signature win took a physical toll, so any worry that the Steelers could flatten out against a team that had all of Pittsburgh on the edge of its seat in the last meeting is valid.

James Harrison recognized this right after beating the Ravens.

"This game counts for nothing if we don't go out there and do what we need to do in the next few weeks," he said late Sunday night. "If we go out here and piss the bed and lose these games, then all this is for nothing."

Later in the week, Harrison was asked if his teammates were buying in.

"Of course. Why wouldn't they?" he asked without a hint of a smile. "To go out there and go through all that and then come back and take someone lightly would be flat out stupid."

It won't take much for the Steelers to maintain their focus today, because the Bengals, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put it, "made us absolutely miserable the last time we played them."

The Bengals and their bolstered receiving corps nearly rallied from a 27-7 fourth-quarter deficit. It started when Carson Palmer threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens. Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception and the Steelers unraveled with three penalties for 50 yards to set up another Bengals touchdown.

Jeff Reed missed a field goal and the Bengals were driving for the go-ahead score in the final minute, but Harrison and Ike Taylor busted up a fourth-down pass near the goal line and Steelers survived, 27-21.

Today's game has similar potential. Tight end Heath Miller is out with a concussion and Roethlisberger is still bothered by a sore foot and will wear a visor on his facemask to protect his broken nose. Otherwise, how does Roethlisberger feel?

"Ready for the Bengals," he said without hesitation.

It was clearly the theme this week for a Steelers team that puts the league's 24th-ranked passing defense up against the pass-happy Bengals. The 37-year-old Owens helped that ranking with 10 catches for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns as a slot receiver the last time.

"We've got some things to combat some of the things he did to us last time," said linebacker James Farrior. "We'll be better prepared this time."

The Steelers, of course, must also deal with the long-time Bengals offensive triumvirate of QB Palmer, WR Chad Ochocino and RB Cedric Benson, as well as emerging threats TE Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley. The two rookies lead AFC rookies with 47 and 44 catches, respectively.

Defensively, the Bengals could be without shutdown cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who's questionable with an ankle injury.

Joseph has missed three games this season and the Bengals have lost all three. He would be replaced by Jonathan Wade, who signed with the team less than a month ago.

The Bengals rank 24th against the run and have given up a 20-yard run or longer in each of their 12 games. Another one today would break an NFL record.

The Bengals have only 14 sacks this season, but seven of those have come in the last four games. The emergence of rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been the key. The team's sacks leader recorded all 4½ of his sacks in those four games, 3½ in the last two. Dunlap enters the game on passing downs.

The Bengals' prized rookies are playing well and have nearly a full season of experience. They come to Pittsburgh as part of a team with a history of playing well here in December.

The Steelers know and respect this.

"We expect this Bengals team to come out and give us everything they have," Farrior said. "They have nothing to lose, and what better way to try to finish off their season than beating us and putting us back in the mix with everyone else."

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