Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and the Steelers have gotten under one another’s skin this season.
Burfict’s celebration of a hit that injured Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in the first meeting of the year between the teams drew the ire of the Steelers. Their reaction, including threats on social media, rankled the Bengals, leading to a pregame scrap between the teams last month and a low hit by Burfict on Ben Roethlisberger kept the temperature high after that game was over.
Based on Burfict’s response to questions about facing the Steelers to open the playoffs on Wednesday, it hasn’t gone down in the intervening weeks.
“I hate Pittsburgh,” Burfict said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s not personal. That’s just the way it is.”
Burfict’s teammates like the fire that Burfict has brought to the defense since his return from a knee injury in November and his performance in Week 17 -- 12 tackles and an interception -- is a reminder of what he brings to the table. Linebacker Rey Maualuga wants to see Burfict focused on that part of the game on Saturday and not on the kind of battles that led to $138,000 in fines the last time the two teams faced off.
“Obviously, emotions are going to be flying around because it’s a playoff game,” Maualuga said. “Obviously, we have to tone things down. We’re not going to create a personal foul to hurt the team. Sometimes, stuff happens because we let our emotions get the best of us. We can’t lose our composure.”
Saturday night’s game promises to be a physical one between two teams that know each other well. That may improve the chances of a costly personal foul and Maualuga’s warning about keeping composure is one that both teams should probably take to heart.