CINCINNATI (AP) – Two players were eliminated, two others suspended and many fines to be followed. One of the most unpleasant rivalries in the NFL sets new lows in primetime, forcing fans to avoid their eyes.
What to do with this long-standing animosity between the Steelers (10-2) and the Bengals (5-7)? Do teams encourage chaos by minimizing? Do the NFL and the networks promote it by showing it in prime time each season?
Those questions came up after a game so brutal that it shook the audience. Pittsburgh rallied for a 23-20 victory at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday night, their sixth straight victory over the Bengals.
However, what will be remembered is how he felt more like a street fight at times. The NFL responded by suspending Steelers receiver JuJu Schuster-Smith and Bengals safety George Iloka on Tuesday for one game apiece, and penalties are expected for other players later in the week.
"I recognize that there were some unfortunate things in that game that we do not need in our game, on both sides," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday.
It has been happening for years, with increasingly deep rancor.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a focal point for much of the animosity, left the field in a car with a concussion after Schuster-Smith leveled it with a blind hit. The receiver stood on the fallen linebacker to make fun of him.
When Schuster-Smith apologized for the teasing after the game, receiver Antonio Brown shouted, "Karma, it's called karma!"
The NFL letter to Schuster-Smith informing him of the suspension said the atrocious blow and teasing "fell well short of the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player."
Iloka hit Brown in the head after his touchdown catch tied the game in the fourth quarter. Brown was not hurt, but the NFL suspended the safety of the Bengals for the kind of flagrant blow that "has no place in our game."
Those moments have defined the rivalry since 2015, when Burfict made a tackle on Le & # 39; Veon Bell that left the Steelers running with a broken knee. Burfict celebrated – the Bengals say he was happy to make a great play – but Bell and the Steelers were offended.
Players came and went on social media, and got into a skirmish on the field during pregame warmups in the Cincinnati rematch. They met again in the playoffs that season at Paul Brown Stadium, and Burfict's blow to Brown's head in the closing seconds moved the Steelers into the range for a field goal and an 18-16 victory.
In response, the NFL suspended Burfict for three games. Burfict went with some of the Steelers on social networks. The raw feelings deepened.
This year's disagreements began when Burfict refused to shake hands with Steelers at the coin launch on October 22 at Heinz Field. During the game, Burfict kicked Steelers Roosevelt Nix in the chest and was fined $ 12,154 for the league.
After the game, Bell tweeted the video of Burfict's kick and said: "man, man, I have to go man … that's not football at all!"
The teams got away with it, but they did not forget.
After the receiver A.J. of the Bengals. Green was ejected from a game in Jacksonville for wrapping his arm around Jalen Ramsey's neck, knocking him down and hitting him, Bell and Schuster-Smith had fun at Green's expense in the Steelers' next game in Indianapolis. They again represented Ramsey's takedown by Green as part of his touchdown celebration.
Back in Cincinnati on Monday night, they did not waste time going again.
In the sixth play of the game, Bell and Burfict met face-to-face during an interception return. Bell grabbed the linebacker's mask and pushed it to the ground, catching a need for unnecessary harshness, part of a combined 20 penalties totaling 239 yards. Cincinnati was penalized 13 times for a 173-yard club record.
Part of the Bengals 'frustration comes from the Steelers' ability to continue to win. The Steelers won six straight, nine of 10 and 14 of 17 in the series.
These two teams have already spent the season on the field, anyway. What comes next?
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who has defended Burfict firmly, is ending his contract and could do so in Cincinnati after a 15-year streak. He's 0-7 in the playoffs, including two losses to Pittsburgh, and he's 8-24 against the Steelers overall.
Burfict will stay. He obtained a contract extension earlier this year while serving another three-game suspension for an atrocious preseason hit. He was also kicked out of a game in Tennessee for pushing an official's arm away.
The question is how to prevent a rivalry from becoming a rumble.
"The rivalry is real," Bengals linebacker Kevin Minter said after the game. "We come for them, and they come for us."