CINCINNATI — Cornerback Leon Hall was limited by a sore back. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth got a customary veteran’s day off.
The rest of the Bengals were full-go in practice on Wednesday, rejuvenated by their bye week.
Cincinnati (6-0) can take control of the AFC North with a win on Sunday at second-place Pittsburgh (4-3). And the Bengals will be as close to full strength as they’ve been all season.
“They’re going to want to have all their starters out there and we’re going to have all our starters out there, too,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “So it’s going to be a good test, a good matchup.”
The only missing starter will be middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who opened the season on an injury list as he recovers from an offseason operation on his left knee. He’s eligible to return to practice this week, but hasn’t been medically cleared to participate.
The Bengals feel re-energized by their weekend off.
“It’s good to have a little extra time to prepare for a team and not be banged up coming off a game Sunday,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “I’m sure we would play well if we’d just had a game, but I’d say it’s a positive.”
The Steelers will have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back after he missed four games with a sprained knee. It’s unclear how much he’ll be limited by the injury.
The defending division champions need a win to stay in contention. When Roethlisberger got hurt during the third game of the season, the Bengals looked at the schedule and figured he’d be back for this one.
“Naturally you think that,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “But every time this guy gets hurt, he makes a remarkable recovery.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re going to have to beat the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback at some point in time this season to get to where we want to go, so why not on Sunday?”
In several ways, it’ll be a breakthrough if they do.
Roethlisberger is 16-6 in his career against the Bengals. His 427 completions and 5,051 yards passing are the most by anyone against Cincinnati. The Steelers swept the season series last season and have won three straight and eight of 10 against the Bengals.
A victory would put Cincinnati up by four games in the loss column over its closest pursuer heading into the season’s midpoint, an almost insurmountable lead. And the Bengals realize it.
“Yeah, you’ve got to,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “Anything that will help us out, you’ve got to look at those options. Getting a win this week is very big for us.”
There’s another factor in play: Cincinnati has lost four of its past five games at Heinz Field.
“You have to embrace it,” Kirkpatrick said. “Their fans have a lot of hate for the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s nothing personal. But if that don’t wake you up, you’re on the wrong team.”
Notes: The Bengals are 5-9 overall at Heinz Field. The teams meet again at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 13. … The longest winning streak in the series: Pittsburgh took eight in a row from 1991-94. The Bengals haven’t won more than six in a row. … The Steelers lead the series 56-34 overall. … The Bengals announced that Thursday night game against Cleveland on Nov. 5 has sold out.
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