CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard couldn't help but flash back to the 2015 AFC wild-card game when he saw Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier being loaded onto a backboard early in the Bengals' 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night.
"It was very similar to 2015," Bernard said of a violent game that saw three Bengals players be placed in concussion protocol and Shazier be taken to the hospital with a spinal injury.
Bernard was knocked out of the AFC wild-card game that season due to a helmet-to-helmet hit by Shazier, one of many violent incidents that occurred that night. Antonio Brown was also knocked out with a concussion due to a hit by Vontaze Burfict later in the game.
"Of course I thought back to when I wasn't right," Bernard said. "But that's just football. That's part of it. I was standing right there hoping he got up. Obviously, I'm praying for him. It's tough to see a guy go down like that, a player like that, and even when our guys went down, Joe [Mixon] and Vontaze. It's tough."
The game was also reminiscent of the playoff game due to the high number of penalties. The Bengals set a franchise record with 13 penalties for 173 yards. The two teams have combined for 1,088 penalty yards in their matchups against each other, including playoffs, since the 2015 season. Their 32 major penalties, such as unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, in the same time span is nearly twice as much as any other matchup in the same period.
"Nope. It was a great AFC North football game," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said when asked if the games between the two rivals were turning too violent. "They were physical, we were physical, we know it was. The one with Vontaze, they can tell you what that is. The history will tell you why that happened, too. I don't need to answer that question."
Dunlap was referring to a blindside hit by Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on Burfict. Smith-Schuster also stood over Burfict after the hit and was flagged for both actions. The hit, which Bengals’ A.J. Green and William Jackson called "dirty," knocked Burfict out of the game after he was taken away on a backboard. Burfict later got up and walked to the locker room on his own.
"I was just playing to the whistle," Smith-Schuster told reporters in the locker room as Brown yelled "karma" in his direction. "I didn't mean to stand over him. I was trying to get a big block for Le'Veon Bell for him to get upfield. The unsportsmanlike conduct is not me. I shouldn't have done that. I hope he's OK and I hope he gets better.