Earlier in 2005, Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh washed his cleats on a Terrible Towel to celebrate a touchdown catch against the Steelers. While this minor antic did show some disrespect to an icon of sorts amongst Steelers fans, it wasn't enough to spawn any major argument between the two teams. Things like this happen relatively regularly (like the Dolphins stomping on a box of Flutie Flakes to celebrate a victory over the Bills for example), and add intensity to rivalry games without causing injuries. This incident likely had no bearing on the Palmer knee injury later in the season, but it is worth noting.
Fast forward three years from 2005. In 2008, Pittsburgh Steelers WR Hines Ward broke Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw on what is largely viewed as an unclean block. Ward basically speared Rivers, plunging his helmet upward into Rivers' jaw. If not an intentional injury, it was still an unclean hit that adds fuel to the fire.
That moment is, ironically enough, not the only time a Bengals player received a broken jaw as the direct result of an unclean hit by a Steelers player. In 2013, Steelers special teams player hit Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber, breaking Huber's jaw and one vertebrae in Huber's neck. While the injuries were not likely intentional, the hit begs the question as to how hard one has to hit a punter to take him out of a play.
Leveon Bell's season was ended twice against Cincinnati, first in 2014 by Reggie Nelson, and second by Vontaze Burfict in week 8 of the 2015 season. The injury caused by Nelson's hit was not likely intentional. The Vontaze Burfict hit/tackle was unclean, but it is tough to tell whether he intended to injure Bell. Here we have Cincinnati injuring a Pittsburgh Steelers player years after the Steelers have established a history of unclean hits on Cincinnati players. While it doesn't excuse Burfict's hit on Bell, the Steelers had already established a long history of unclean plays leading to Cincinnati's injury.
Fast forward to the 2015 playoff matchup between the two teams. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier began the fireworks on the field by launching himself into Gio Bernard's chin, knocking him out temporarily. This hit set off the entire Cincinnati team, especially Vontaze Burfict, who had stated repeatedly before the game that he hates the Steelers. Burfict unleashed a hard hit on Ben Roethlisberger, knocking him out of the game, and later hit Antonio Brown in a head-to-head collision that does not appear to have been an intentionally caused injury, although Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness (a fair call given the situation). Steelers coach Joey Porter was, however, not flagged for being on the field illegally by the referees. The entire game was a wreck both from an officiating standpoint and from a coaching standpoint for Cincinnati as Bengals coach Marvin Lewis clearly and totally lost control of his team, handing Pittsburgh the win.
Did Cincinnati intentionally plan to injure players such as Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in 2015? The answer is that it is unlikely. Marvin Lewis seems like a decent enough coach to not risk ending a player's career through unclean hits. However, he also seems to struggle to control the intensity of his players at times. Vontaze Burfict has a history of playing at an extremely intense level and occasionally crossing the line between an acceptable and unacceptable levels of intensity. If there was any intent to injure Steelers players, it was likely on the part of Burfict alone, and not a conspiracy amongst Bengals players as a whole.
Either way, from a historical perspective Pittsburgh has no room to argue. Steelers linebacker James Harrison has a long history of hard hits and questionable play, much like Burfict. The Steelers have severely injured Bengals players on a repeated basis thanks to unclean plays in the past. While this does not make it ok for Cincinnati to target Pittsburgh's players (and while injuries are a part of the sport that we wish could be entirely eliminated), the Steelers are not, as an organization, clearly not innocent themselves. Until the league figures out ways to prevent the two teams from scuffling and playing at an ultra high level of intensity they play, the injuries will continue on both sides. The recent history is a brutal one, and the most recent injuries come after a long history of questionable hits by Pittsburgh players. Perhaps the team should look at their past as well when commenting on current events. While it is never ok to intentionally injure a player, claims that the Bengals have a scheme to intentionally harm Steelers players are likely false, and given recent history, Pittsburgh has made questionable plays in the recent past as well. One thing is for certain. The matchups between these teams this season will be fun to watch.