PITTSBURGH -- Marvin Lewis, the long-time coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, was asked in a conference call if he expects "bad blood" in Sunday's game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Uh, no," Lewis said. "I expect us to play a football game."
And maybe smart, because it might not be a good idea to define what's expected by all Sunday. As Steelers guard David DeCastro put it: "We don't like them. They don't like us. But I'm not going to sit here and give you bulletin board material."
Not even the loquacious and gregarious Arthur Moats would bite.
"The play's gonna talk for itself, baby," said the Steelers linebacker.
The anger is obvious. The revenge motive is, too, because the Bengals are not only in first place in the AFC North thanks to an earlier win over the Steelers, but they knocked star running back Le'Veon Bell out for the season with what could be construed as a dirty hit. And Vontaze Burfict, who grabbed Bell high and jumped on the back of his legs to bring him down, celebrated wildly.
This was the second consecutive season in which the Bengals ended Bell's season with a shot that some considered cheap. The difference is that last year the Steelers answered with Ben Tate, who fumbled on his third carry and gained 19 yards in the Steelers' playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
This year the Steelers have responded with something much better. Yes, he's 32 years old, and, yes, he still has his burst, but, no, no one has any more questions about the ability of DeAngelo Williams.
"We know the professional hatred that we have between one another, with us being in the same division," Williams told reporters Thursday. "So we've got to go out there and play our best ball."
It didn't take Williams long to get it.
"No, it didn't take long at all," Williams said. "You get accustomed to the rivalries fast when you go to a new team."
As a second-quarter replacement for Bell on Nov. 1, Williams carried nine times for 71 yards against the Bengals. He also caught four passes to give him 110 yards from scrimmage. It was his second such 100-yard game of the season, and in the four games since Williams has gained over 100 yards from scrimmage three times. He's giving the Steelers what might in fact be his best season in the last six. Consider:
This season Williams has carried 141 times for 697 yards (4.9 avg.) with a long of 55 yards and six rushing touchdowns.
His composite best from the previous five seasons is 201 for 843 (5.4) with a long of 74 and seven rushing touchdowns.
Obviously the meatiest of those numbers should fall as the Steelers' starter the rest of the season. Williams needs to average 76 yards rushing over the final four games for his first 1,000-yard season since 2009. Would it mean anything special to him?
"No," he said with a convincing shake of the head. "But it does if it equals wins. If it doesn't equal wins it doesn't matter. I came here for one reason and one reason only and that's to win games and go to the Super Bowl."
Williams has been resolute with that response since he signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers last March. He spent nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers and never got past the divisional round of the playoffs. So for good measure yesterday, he repeated his mantra.
"I'm at that point in my career man where you can put up all the numbers you want to," he said. "You can put up all the whatever you want to, or you can swing whatever statistic you want to swing, but it doesn't matter if you don't get to the Super Bowl and win it."
The Steelers, as they have in six of their eight Super Bowl seasons, can take a step in that direction by winning at Cincinnati.
In a blood game.
NOTES -- The only Steelers with injury issues Thursday were tight ends Heath Miller (ribs) and Matt Spaeth (knee). Both were limited in practice after sitting out of Wednesday's practice. ... The Bengals, whom STATS has determined have lost the second-fewest NFL games by starters to injuries this season, may have multiple reserves playing in their secondary against the Steelers. Starting cornerback Adam Jones isn't expected to play with a foot injury. Strong safety George Iloka (groin) and slot cornerback Leon Hall (back) missed last Sunday's game and have missed this week's practices, although Hall did practice in a limited capacity Thursday. One of the Bengals' top reserves at cornerback, Darqueze Dennard, was put on injured reserve two weeks ago.