FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Count Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon as someone who agrees with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that the Steelers’ real rivalry is with the Ravens and not the Bengals.
McLendon is an expert on this subject. He played six seasons with the Steelers before signing a three-year contract with the Jets in 2016.
McLendon watched Monday’s physically demanding Bengals-Steelers game in which Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster knocked out Vontaze Burfict with a vicious hit. The NFL suspended Smith-Schuster for one game for hitting a defenseess player. Cincinnati safety George Iloka hit Pittsburgh star receiver Antonio Bryant in the helmet as he caught a touchdown pass. Iloka was also suspended one game but after an appeal was fined instead.
The hard play, on national television, raised many questions about the level of brutality by both teams.
“In that one [with the Bengals], it feels like almost, just, you’re out there to hit people, and we don’t feel the same respect from them that Baltimore and we have,” Roethlisberger said to reporters on Wednesday. “I’m not really sure why.”
McLendon knows why.
“I’m with him because it really started between the Steelers and Baltimore,” McLendon said Thursday. “Ray Lewis vs. Ben when I was there. They used to have the No. 1 defense in Baltimore and that’s what it used to be like. So you’re going to have that respect level. But Cincinnati has come on of late.”
There were many questionable hits in the Steelers-Bengals game, including the one by Smith-Schuster, who knocked Burfict out of the game with a block on a pass play. McLendon believed the hit was clean but thought Smith-Schuster went too far for standing over Burfict and taunting him after the play.
“It’s a game, man,” McLendon said. “The one thing I say what JuJu did was bad, he should never have stood over Vontaze Burfict, they don’t want this in the game.
“When [Iloka] hit Antonio Brown in end zone, it’s football. But you gotta, even though you’re taller than him, you got to find a way to hit your target. It was a good game, that’s how it is, man. Everybody around this time is trying to get into the playoffs and you got to do the necessary things.”