CINCINNATI (AP)— Vontaze Burfict refused to shake the Steelers' hands at midfield last October, and added to the insult by kicking one of them during the first quarter.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell tweeted after Pittsburgh's 29-14 win that the Bengals linebacker ought to be kicked out of the NFL.
There's no holding back in this rivalry.
The AFC North rivals get a chance to add a few more flourishes — for better or worse — to a nasty series that has played out not only on the field, but in social media exchanges and end zone celebrations as well.
The Steelers (9-2) and the Bengals (5-6) don't like each other, and they don't hide it.
It's on Twitter. It's on the field. It'll be back at Paul Brown Stadium — the scene of the rivalry's most memorable moment — on Monday night in the game the Bengals need to win to have a chance of salvaging their season.
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"It's all about the story lines," Bengals safety George Iloka said. "Will we play well in primetime? Will we get the game that we need? How many games have we lost to them in a row? I know the story lines."
So do the Steelers, who are off to their best start since 2004. They've won five straight against Cincinnati and eight of nine in the series, a span that includes the Bengals' playoff meltdown at Paul Brown Stadium during the 2015 season. That's the one in which Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the head in the closing seconds, moving the Steelers in range for the winning field goal.
They've been going at it ever since, even when they're far away from each other playing other teams.
In November, Bengals receiver A.J. Green was ejected in Jacksonville for grabbing cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the neck, tackling him and punching him. The Steelers' reaction? In their next game against Indianapolis, Bell and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster celebrated a touchdown by re-enacting the Green-Ramsey confrontation .
"I thought it was funny, so we wanted to make it a celebration," Bell said this week. "We weren't trying to downplay them or make A.J. Green feel a certain way. We just thought that situation was funny how it turned out and ran with it."
They weren't laughing in Cincinnati, where several story lines will play out Monday night.
The Steelerslove the night-time stage . They've won 10 straight prime-time games, including three already this season against the Lions (Sunday night), the Titans (Thursday night) and the Packers (last Sunday night). Following their game in Cincinnati, they host the Ravens on Sunday night.
"All your peers are watching, all your family is watching, your friends, people all over the world," Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger said. "So it's fun when you put on a good show."
For the Bengals, it's been a horrific time slot. They're 11-23 on Monday night, dropping their past three, and 3-14 on Sunday night.
PATS ON THE BRAIN? Steelers coach Mike Tomlin raised eyebrows when he openly talked about Pittsburgh's Dec. 17 meeting with New England during a taped interview before the Steelers narrowly escaped the Packers.
Roethlisberger downplayed it, calling it part of a coach's job to look down the road. Safety Mike Mitchell however, thinks it's only natural to have what could be the game of the season in the AFC highlighted.
"I'm going to prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals because that's who we play this week," Mitchell said. "But you're ... not the smartest human in the world if you're not thinking about them."
GET 'EM DOWN: The Steelers have the league's fourth-ranked defense, but they've allowed a touchdown of at least 50 yards or more in each of the past three games, including two last week to unproven Green Bay backup quarterback Brett Hundley. Pittsburgh has to get that part fixed.
"It's fitting to get real," linebacker Bud Dupree said. "So these next couple months is the most important months of the year."
BURFICT'S BEHAVIOR: Burfict's kick at Steelers running back Roosevelt Nix in the October game drew a $12,154 fine. Burfict wasn't a factor in the Steelers' 29-14 win. He was on the field for all 69 defensive plays and finished with only four tackles, no sacks, no pass breakups and no tackle for a loss. How will he put his mark on this game?
NO 'INT' IN DALTON: Andy Dalton threw an interception during the third quarter of the loss at Heinz Field, and hasn't thrown another since then. He's gone five games and 140 attempts without being picked off, the longest streak by a Bengals quarterback since Akili Smith in 2000.
Dalton is only 3-10 against the Steelers with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. During the second half of the loss at Pittsburgh, the Bengals managed only one first down and 19 yards total.
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