In addition to staying in the AFC playoff race, the Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to exorcise a couple of demons that have tormented them for years when they step on the national stage Monday night:
Pittsburgh and prime-time.
The Steelers have won five in a row against the Bengals, eight of nine and 13 of 16. What’s even more remarkable is that they are 14-2 at Paul Brown Stadium since Marvin Lewis took over as Bengals coach in 2003.
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The problems in prime-time (defined as games that start after 7 p.m.) have been just as pronounced, and they’ve plagued Cincinnati since well before Lewis arrived.
The Bengals are 21-47 in prime-time all time, 9-23 under Lewis and 5-14 in the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era.
Cincinnati is 2-8 in its last 10 night games, with the lone wins coming against Cleveland in 2015 and Miami in 2016. Meanwhile Pittsburgh is 10-0 in its last 10 primetime tilts.
Against the Steelers in prime-time, the Bengals have lost seven of eight and are 5-12 all time.
Here are six things to watch when two teams clash under the lights the 18th time:
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton hasn’t throw an interception in his last five games, which is the longest streak of his career and one of the longest in franchise history.
Dalton hasn’t throw an interception since the third quarter of the 29-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 22. That covers a span of 140 pass attempts, which is the third longest streak of his career behind runs of 147 and 165, both of which were accomplished last season.
The Steelers were the team that stopped the 147-pass streak last December, continuing a trend that has seen Dalton throw an interception in five of his last six games against them. In three of those six, he’s thrown multiple picks.
Dalton is 3-10 against Pittsburgh in his career with 15 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 75.6 passer rating.
“They know what they’re doing,” he said. “They put guys in different spots, and they’re always around the football. They try to take away the easy throws, the easy completions, and make you hold on to the ball a little longer. So they’ve got different things that they do to try and disrupt your game.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown an interception against the Bengals in his last two games. If he avoids throwing one tonight, it will be the first time in his career he has made it through three straight games against Cincinnati without a pick.
Prior to his current two-game streak, Roethlisberger had thrown 12 interceptions in his last nine regular-season games against the Bengals.
“I’ve been screaming that we’ve got to win our moments,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “When you’ve got moments when you can make a big play and you don’t make a big play or you drop an interception or you drop a touchdown, you’re not winning your moment. I feel like we’ve got to win our moments. They’re going to present themselves. We just have to go out there and take them.”
Roethlisberger has thrown multiple picks six times in 29 career games against the Bengals, and the Steelers are 2-4 in those games. Pittsburgh is 20-3 against Cincinnati when Roethlisberger throws fewer than two picks.
The Bengals have allowed points in the final 23 seconds of the first half in five of their last six games, which is a troubling trend considering the history the Steelers have of doing it to them.
Pittsburgh has found a way to score points in the final two minutes of the first half in 18 of the last 22 games, including the team’s Week 7 meeting at Heinz Field, when the Steelers scored twice in the final 110 seconds of the second quarter.
Chris Boswell hit a 22-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh ahead 17-14 with 1:50 left before halftime, then the Bengals offense went three and out and punted the ball to the Steelers with 1:28 left. Pittsburgh went 71 yards in seven plays to get a 24-yard field goal at the gun.
The Bengals offense, on the other hand, has scored points in the final two minutes of the first half in just four of the last 22 games against the Steelers.
With starting SAM linebacker Nick Vigil (ankle) and backup Vinny Rey (hamstring) ruled out with injuries, rookie Jordan Evans will make his starting debut on national television.
And his assignment is as tough as it gets as he’ll be tasked with covering Pittsburgh Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell when he leaks out of the backfield as a receiver.
Evans has played in 10 of 11 games this year, mostly on special teams. He’s logged just 10 percent of the snaps on defense and has nine tackles.
The sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma didn’t get an invite to the Combine, but his 40-yard dash time of 4.5 at his pro day was faster than any linebacker ran in Indianapolis. And he’s going to need to utilize that speed to keep up with Bell, who leads all running backs in receptions (61).
“It’s his time to go play,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s going to be a great player here, he really is.”
After being ranked last in the league in rushing offense the previous four weeks, the Bengals got the ground game going last week against Cleveland with a season-high 152 yards as rookie running back Joe Mixon topped the century mark for the first time with 114.
But running the ball against the Steelers has always been a challenge for Cincinnati. The last time a Bengals player rushed for more than 100 yards against Pittsburgh was 2004, when Rudi Johnson had 123 in a 28-17 loss.
The last time a Bengals player ran for more than 100 in a victory against the Steelers was 1999, when Corey Dillon had 120 in a 27-20 triumph.
There will be a lot of interest in the inactives list when it comes out 90 minutes before kickoff , which is when the Steelers will need to make a decision on Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The NFL leader in receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,195), Brown missed practice Friday and Saturday with a toe injury and listed as questionable.
His absence would be another hit for a team that definitely will be without starting cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and tight end Vance McDonald (ankle) and probably won’t have starting safety Mike Mitchell, who is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
When: 8:25 p.m. Monday
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
TV: ESPN, Ch. 5
Radio: 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM