By Teresa Varley
The last time the Steelers and Bengals played, in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, the Bengals pulled off a last second win when Carson Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for a four-yard touchdown with 14 seconds remaining to secure a 23-20 win.
But there was something missing in that game and the Bengals are well aware of that. Safety Troy Polamalu was out with a knee injury, but will be back in action this Sunday at Heinz Field when the two teams meet again.
"Troy makes some plays he's supposed to make, some plays that somebody else should make, and plays that you shake your head and say, 'Wow. How did he do that?'' said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "He's a fine player. He's a great studier, great student of the game. He understands what you do, and he tries to play to your tendencies quite a bit, and he's athletic enough to do it. Whether it's running down a receiver, being a blitzer, making a fine open-field tackle...he does all of those things."
With or without Polamalu quarterback Carson Palmer knows how tough the Steelers defense is, but Polamalu definitely adds another wrinkle.
"They can do some different things," said Palmer. "They have some packages for Troy. But it's a good defense when he's on the field and when he's not on the field. To me, he's one of the best players in this game, and when you add that guy you're only going to get better. We didn't have a chance to play against him last time, but he'll be ready to play this one. I know he'll be looking forward to this game, as will their entire defense. There's always a couple of wrinkles with him, and then just worrying about him and seeing him on every play, because he makes a lot of plays and is all over the place and runs the fastest guy on the field down from all over the place. They're a great defense, and with him it's even better."
There isn't any doubt the Steelers matchup with the Bengals on Sunday is a big game, with both teams tied at 6-2 and the Bengals having the edge defeating the Steelers earlier in the season. But don't expect the players to place any more importance on this game than they do on any other game this season.
"Every game is a must win," said linebacker James Farrior. "Every week, the next game is the biggest game. They are all must wins. This one is no different. It's the team we are facing. That's how it is every week."
The Bengals are 4-0 in the AFC North, while the Steelers are 1-1 in the division, defeating the Cleveland Browns and losing to the Bengals.
"It's important because it's the next game," said nose tackle Casey Hampton. "It's a conference game. You always want to win in your conference. That's the first step. You gotta win the conference first. That is the way we are looking at it."
Ryan Clark isn't complaining that Coach Mike Tomlin made the decision for him, not allowing him to play against the Denver Broncos on Monday night. But if the decision were up to him, he would have taken the chance.
"I would have played," said Clark. "That just means (Coach Tomlin's) smarter than I am because obviously I'm standing here right now, no ill effects at all."
Clark played in Denver in 2007 and because of his sickle cell trait and other medical issues became so ill he had to have his gall bladder and spleen removed.
"I think it was as smart move by coach," said Clark. "I appreciated the fact that he did take it out of my hands. It kind of gave me a way to breathe either way. I didn't feel like I was cleared to play and I just chose not to because Coach Tomlin made the decision, and also if I do play and get sick I couldn't live with that either. So I do appreciate what he did and now it's time to move on."
The Steelers were minus a few starters in practice on Wednesday, but no reason to panic. Wide receiver Hines Ward and linebacker James Farrior both sat out, as did cornerback Deshea Townsend, but none of them were injury related. Running back Carey Davis (hamstring), guard Trai Essex (illness), defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) also missed practice.