The man who ended the 2015 seasons of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, and could've ended Ben Roethlisberger's with a cheap shot, all in three different games, was the game within the game on Sunday.
From the start:
* On Antonio Brown's first catch, he and Burfict exchanged pats on the helmet that increased in intensity with each smack. It was followed by a facemask-to-facemask scene.
* On the second Steelers possession, Burfict and Maurkice Pouncey went facemask to facemask after a play, followed by a hard Burfict hit on Bell with an overzealous help-up. On the next play, Burfict blew up Eli Rogers and the deflected pass was nearly intercepted.
* On the third Steelers possession, Burfict and David DeCastro met on a pull like two rhinos. Both left the field woozy.
* Burfict missed the fourth possession, but on the fifth he angered DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert into a 15-yard penalty, but three plays later was himself flagged for 15 for a late hit on Roethlisberger. That was a play after Gilbert had shot out and dove at Burfict's knees.
That fifth possession, early in the third quarter, caused officials to speak to both sides and appeared to end the skirmishes.
"I'm not going to go down that road and give you guys a bunch of ammo," DeCastro told reporters. "He is who he is and you know who he is. Luckily we got the win."
DeCastro did admit that the officials were sympathetic to the Steelers' complaints about Burfict.
"They understand," DeCastro said. "They've got a tough job to do to control it. Emotions run high. It's a physical game. He's an emotional guy. He plays football hard, plays with emotions. You just have to fight through it and I thought for the most part down the stretch we kept pretty calm."
After the game, Burfict had a message for the Cincinnati media: "I ain't got (expletive) to say. (Expletive) all of you."
The Steelers suffered a critical blow when defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt injured his right knee on the game's third snap. Tuitt missed the rest of the game and Mike Tomlin didn't know the extent, saying only that Tuitt was being evaluated.
Tuitt, of course, is the mainstay of a line that lost Cameron Heyward for the season with a torn pectoral muscle against the Dallas Cowboys.
"He's a huge loss," linebacker Ryan Shazier said of Tuitt. "And Cam was a huge loss. But Coach Mitch (John Mitchell) has those guys ready at any moment and they're going to be ready and in shape whenever we need them to."
The other Steelers injury was to tight end Ladarius Green, who was being evaluated for a concussion.
BOSWELL TIES MARK
Chris Boswell's six field goals tied Jeff Reed (2002) and Gary Anderson (1988) for the franchise record.
Boswell made kicks of 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards to score the Steelers' first 18 points.
"Six-for-six. He needs no endorsement from me," said Tomlin. "Shoot, I just gave him the game ball."
"Those weren't just chip shots," said Roethlisberger. "Those were some bombs he hit into the wind. He also had a tackle. He deserves the game ball and he got it."
Boswell dove and barely tripped Alex Erickson to save a touchdown during Erickson's 72-yard return with 5:25 left in the second quarter. The Steelers held the Bengals to a field goal and a 20-6 lead.
TIMMONS WAS OPEN
Lawrence Timmons' 12th career interception was much easier than his other interception this season.
Against the New York Giants, Timmons extended fully to snare Eli Manning's pass near the goal line. On Sunday, Timmons was patrolling his zone as Bengals center Russell Bodine mistakenly (and illegally) ran down the field. Dalton saw Bodine and threw to him, but the center knew he couldn't touch the ball so he ducked, and it went right to Timmons.
"I was looking at him and he threw it right to me," said Timmons. "I'll take it."
During the return, Timmons took a forearm to the throat and went down as if he had been shot.
"I kind of blacked out there for a little bit," Timmons said. "I remember I was running, and then I'm on the ground saying 'What's going on?' That was a big guy."
BELL CROSSES 100 AGAIN
Le'Veon Bell rushed for 93 yards (23 carries, 4.0 ypc.) and caught five passes for 38 yards to cross 100 total yards (131) for the sixth consecutive game and 10th time in his 11 games this season.
The running was obviously a little more difficult than the previous week when Bell rushed for 236 yards on 38 carries (6.2 ypc.) in Buffalo.
"Those guys came prepared to take away the run," Bell said of the Bengals. "They had a lot of guys committed to the box. They were ready for a lot of our plays. They're used to us. They're used to the things we run. We play them so many times. We knew it would come down to execution at the end of the day. We didn't bust a 20-plus-yard run today. We just had a lot of chunks, 8, 10, 6, just kind of chunked them away and kind of wore them out at the end of the game."
Did Burfict affect Bell's game?
"He trash talked all game but he's a good player," Bell said. "You've got to respect him. He makes plays. After the game we shook hands, we gave each other respect and kept moving."
The win was Ben Roethlisberger's 12th in 14 games played at Paul Brown Stadium, which is 39 miles from his alma mater, Miami University.
When the statistic was relayed to Pouncey, the Steelers center said, "Man. We need to play my whole career here then."
Next Sunday the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens with a chance to clinch the AFC North championship. A Steelers loss would give both teams 9-6 records with one game remaining but the Ravens would have a 2-0 head-to-head tiebreaker.
"We're going to evaluate this tape, which I don't really want to," said tackle Marcus Gilbert, "and then move on to play the No. 1 defense in the NFL. We've got to come ball, man. Whatever we did today, whatever we did in the past five weeks, whatever that is, finishing strong, running the ball well, we've got to do that. Typically the team that runs the ball well in these games comes out on top."
Aren't the Ravens impossible to run on?
"Impossible? Who says anybody's impossible to run on?" asked Gilbert. "We see it. They play the game of chess. That's what we're going to come out and do. We lost the first game. This game is going to be at our field. We have to come out and dominate. I'm looking forward to it. They have good players on both sides of the ball and we do too."null