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Gilbert’s dream comes true

Ray Fittipaldo 6 years ago

In the hours after the Steelers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati last month, offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert bluntly made it known which team he would like to meet in the playoffs.

“All I want for Christmas is the Bengals,” Gilbert tweeted. “Would love to see them in the playoffs when they choke. The talking is done between the lines.”

Gilbert got what he wanted. The Steelers, after beating the Browns Sunday and getting some help from Buffalo, will meet the Bengals for a third time this season Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

The choking Gilbert was talking about was the fact the Bengals have lost their first playoff game the past four years and haven’t won a playoff game since 1990.

More ominous news for the Bengals: they’ve lost 14 of the past 17 to the Steelers at home.

After their regular-season finale Sunday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis talked about “exorcisms” when asked about a playoff matchup with the Steelers.

One of the Bengals’ six consecutive playoff losses came against the Steelers 10 years ago at Paul Brown Stadium. It was the first of three consecutive road wins for the Steelers en route to Super Bowl XL.

But that seems like ancient history with all that has taken place between the two teams this season.

The Steelers won, 33-20, Dec. 13 in Cincinnati. The Bengals beat the Steelers, 16-10, Nov. 1 at Heinz Field. But there was so much more that happened in those two games.

The intro music for CBS Saturday night should be Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”

The most recent meeting in Cincinnati was one of the most vicious games the Steelers have played in recent memory. There was pregame shoving match. Afterward, the Steelers accused Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict of trying to injure Ben Roethlisberger with a low hit.

The NFL fined Burfict nearly $70,000 for three separate illegal plays against the Steelers, including the low hit on Roethlisberger.

Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was fined $23,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Tyler Eifert that knocked him from that game and the next two with a concussion.

For the game, the NFL doled out nearly $150,000 in fines to both teams.

It was also the game when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fractured his thumb. His backup, AJ McCarron, is expected to start against the Steelers.

There are story lines galore in this one.

Gilbert will be at the forefront this week. He wasn’t hiding from his boastful tweet after the Steelers had clinched a playoff berth Sunday afternoon. The Steelers would not know their opponent for a couple of more hours, but Gilbert made his feelings known if it turned out to be the Bengals.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “We’re familiar with them. It doesn’t get any better with them, two familiar teams. I was praying for that. Dreams do come true.”

Gilbert expects another lively affair in the Queen City.

“It’s going to be intense,” he said. “You can’t get any more excited than this. We had a letdown last year [in the playoffs]. There’s a bad taste in our mouth. I know the guys that we have. I think we’re going to ride this wave.”

Hopping back on bandwagon

The Steelers won six of their final eight to finish 10-6 after a 4-4 start, but it doesn’t feel like the Steelers are on a hot streak, not after their two uneven performances against the Ravens and Browns.

“We’re making the normal progression of a team that’s in the playoffs through the course of the season,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “It’s nothing miraculous. I thought we did a good job of handling adversity. Everyone counted us out last week. Everyone jumped off the bandwagon. Everyone was down on us. Everyone was calling us out. We believed. Shout out to the people who believed. We’re glad to be in.”

So much for players not reading the newspaper or listening to talk radio.

Wide open AFC

Has the AFC ever been more wide open?

Denver is the top seed in the AFC, but the Broncos had to go to Peyton Manning late in the game to help them secure their top billing after Brock Osweiler threw two interceptions against the Chargers Sunday.

New England, losers of four of their past six and dealing with some injuries to key players, is the No. 2 seed.

Cincinnati, with a backup quarterback likely to play in the wild card round, is the No. 3 seed.

Houston, after playing with three quarterbacks over the final month, is the No. 4 seed.

Kansas City, winners of 10 in a row, is the No. 5 seed.

And the Steelers are the No. 6 seed.

When in doubt go with the top quarterbacks. If Manning is healthy (or healthy enough to complement the NFL’s top defense) that could mean the Broncos playing host to the Patriots for the AFC championship game. If not, it could open the door for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to go to New England for a rematch with the Patriots.

Or, it could be one of those weird years when a mediocre quarterback gets to the Super Bowl.

Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer and Mark Rypien won Super Bowls in the past 25 years.

David Woodley and Tony Eason got the Dolphins and Patriots to the Super Bowl in the 1980s.

Is this one of those odd years? Or does Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger find a way to get out of the conference?