Steelers look to finish off Bengals

Published 12:42 am Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Things are so bad for the defending AFC North champions that they’re not even sure how to describe their dire predicament.

The Bengals (2-5) are one loss away from another lost season.

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“If there’s any salvageability — if that’s a word — then this Monday night is where we need to start,” receiver Terrell Owens said.

Yes, it is a word. And yes, it is that bad. The team that ran the table in the division last season — 6-0 for the first time in Bengals history — will be down for the count if it loses to the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), who have a chance to make it a two-team race on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

First, they can elbow the defending champs out of the way. Then, they can spend the second half of the season trying to break that first-place tie with the Baltimore Ravens.

“We know we basically owe them one,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said. “They came out and swept us last year.”

In Cincinnati, last year already seems like eons ago.

The Bengals’ decision to beef up their passing game by signing Owens and drafting tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley has improved the statistics but not the record. The Bengals do a much better job throwing the ball this year, but somehow it all doesn’t fit together.

Instead of another title run, the Bengals are back to the dark days. It’s the 14th time in the last 20 years they’ve gotten off to such a poor start.

The Bengals swept the series last season by winning 23-20 in Cincinnati and 18-12 in Pittsburgh, rallying in the second half both times. A win would give the Bengals three straight over the Steelers, something they haven’t done since 1989-90 under coach Sam Wyche.

Even when they’ve been bad, the Bengals have been known to give the rival Steelers all they can handle. They expect to do the same again on Monday night.

“You know what? I was taught early not to use the word ’hate,’ but it’s a very strong dislike,” Bengals right guard Bobbie Williams said, smiling. “And as far as Steelers, I mean, it’s kind of like having an upset stomach that you can’t wait to get rid of …

“Naw, all fun and jokes aside, it’s a big game. And there’s some harsh feelings in there somewhere. For a while, they were known as a bully, and we took that from them. Our mentality is to go out there and exert our will and our force upon them, point-blank.”

The Steelers want to get their offense up to speed behind Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended by the NFL for the first four games and has been inconsistent in his return. He usually does well in his native state, going 11-2 in Ohio.

“There’s some good things and bad things,” said Roethlisberger, who has completed 63 percent of his throws with five touchdowns and two interceptions. “Just trying to constantly improve.”

Roethlisberger was 17 of 28 for 195 yards with an interception during a 20-10 loss at New Orleans on Sunday night, the Steelers’ first defeat since his return.

“For three games, we had some opportunities to do some big things and we just haven’t gotten them done,” Randle El said. “So the bottom line now is we’ve got to continue to sharpen those skills. Going into the fourth game, certainly we’ll be on a little bit better page with one another and get rolling.”

The Steelers’ defense is never an issue. Pittsburgh has the league’s top run defense, allowing only 58.9 yards per game. Pittsburgh has given up only eight touchdowns in its seven games.

Cincinnati’s two wins last season came off touchdowns when the Pittsburgh defense was on the sideline. Johnathan Joseph intercepted one of Roethlisberger’s passes and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown in the first game, and Bernard Scott returned a kickoff 96 yards at Heinz Field.

Much of the attention on Monday will be on Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was fined $20,000 Thursday for a late hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He already had been fined $75,000 for a hit on Cleveland’s Mohamed Massaquoi and $5,000 for slamming Titans quarterback Vince Young to the turf.

Will he ease up with a chance to put the defending AFC North champs away?

“I think he’s managing the situation very well,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I am very adamant about defending James because I believe that he is a do-right guy. He’s trying to comply, no question.”