Steelers, Bengals have different motivations

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PITTSBURGH – Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t thinking ahead to the playoffs, at least not yet.

The Steelers aren’t thinking about the playoffs at all.

When the NFL decided a couple of weeks ago not to flex tonight’s game at Heinz Field out of its 8:30 p.m. time slot, it did so with the thought the Bengals and Steelers would still be fighting for playoff spots.

The Bengals (9-4), who lead the AFC North, have held up their end of the bargain. As for the Steelers (5-8), that’s a different story.

Back-to-back losses have left the Steelers with the slimmest of chances to make the postseason.

The Bengals are fighting to get a home playoff game. The Steelers are just fighting for respectibility.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of respect for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “I don’t think they necessarily understand the history, or know the history, nor care about it.”

The Bengals haven’t swept the Steelers since 2009, but beat Pittsburgh 20-10 in September in Cincinnati. It was a game in which the Steelers were missing tight end Heath Miller and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.

Lewis, a McDonald native and Fort Cherry High School graduate, has the Bengals in position to win their third AFC North championship in 11 years, but knows he’ll get Pittsburgh’s best effort.

“They’ve got a good football team led by a great quarterback, and they’ve got their running back in there now. Heath Miller is back,” said Lewis. “Defensively, they’ve had some guys in and out, but they’ve settled in with this group. They’re playing well. I know they didn’t win last week, and they lost a close game the week before. … They’re just one play away. It’s an important game for both football teams. I know they’re going to be ready to play.”

With Baltimore (7-6) still nipping at Cincinnati’s heels and the Bengals hosting the Ravens to end the season, Lewis isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We’ve got a lot left,” said Lewis. “We haven’t really done anything yet.”

The Steelers are looking to avoid a loss that would guarantee their first losing season since 2003.

“Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got three games to get to .500,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

To get there, the Steelers will need to contain a Cincinnati offense that has scored more than 40 points in three of its past six games.

For a defense that has allowed 17 plays of 40 or more yards, including three last week in a loss to Miami, stopping the Bengals’ offense could be difficult.

“We’re capable,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “Our problem really has been consistency and we need to solve that.”

The Bengals have struggled with consistency issues of their own. Cincinnati is 6-0 at home, but only 3-4 on the road.

A big reason for that has been the play of third-year quarterback Any Dalton, who has thrown 16 interceptions, including 14 in road games.

“We turn the ball over too often,” said Lewis. “Then at the end of the game we end up with one or two less points than the other club. It’s hard to win that way. You can’t turn the ball over.”

The game will feature the return of former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and long-time Steelers star linebacker James Harrison to Pittsburgh. Harrison was released in the offseason in a salary cap move after he declined to take a paycut. He wound up signing with Cincinnati for less than Pittsburgh was offering.

Players and coaches from both teams have been unsure how Harrison will be received by the Heinz Field crowd.

“Well, I know what he’ll get from me,” said LeBeau. “He’s one of the great Steeler defenders. I’m not going to wish him success in the game, but I do love the man.”

Odds and end zones

The Bengals have won their last two games against the Steelers. Prior to that, Pittsburgh won five consecutive games against Cincinnati. … Bell averages 82 rushing yards per game against AFC North opponents. … The Steelers are 14-6 against Cincinnati when Roethlisberger starts. ... Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson has an interception in each of his last two games against Pittsburgh.

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