The Cincinnati Bengals bungled away a win Saturday night and in turn, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved on. The late-game collapse by Cincy slipped the Steelers into a rematch with the Denver Broncos, who equally let a win slip through their fingers just four weeks ago in Pittsburgh.

Since the 34-27 defeat on Dec. 20, the Broncos have continued on to a top playoff seed and an epic defensive regular season, but they still haven’t received the respect they feel they deserve. The notoriety that has eluded them is in large part due to the Steelers’ offensive showing in Week 15; now the Broncos have their chance to make things right.

“We are happy to get another crack at them because last time we had a lot of missed tackles and let them do things that we have not let any other teams do. It’s nice to have the fans behind us this time and know what we now know,” defensive end Malik Jackson said Monday.

The Broncos dominated most statistical categories this season. They finished first in yards allowed per game (283.1), fewest pass yards per game (199.6), first in sacks (52), third in rush yards allowed per game (83.6) and fourth in points per game (18.5) but their meeting with the Steelers broke that trend for just one game.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown led the way as the Steelers came back from a 17-point, first-half deficit and broke two significant season records on the Broncos defense. Roethlisberger was the first and only quarterback to throw for over 300 yards on them (380 total) and Brown and teammate Martavis Bryant were the only two receivers to have ten or more receptions in a game. Brown’s 16 catch, 189-yard game was only the third time a receiver put up 100 yards on the Broncos this season.

The demoralizing loss added to the large chip that was building on each and every Broncos defender’s shoulders. Many experts around the league had yet to give the Broncos defense, which had been remarkable through 14 games, their just due and following the loss the chip has only grown.

The Broncos had only four players make the Pro Bowl along with four alternates. Only Chris Harris Jr. (second team) and Von Miller (first team) made All-Pro. Players across the team voiced their displeasure. Pro-Bowl alternate Brandon Marshall called it a “travesty” that more Broncos weren’t included and Harris added, “having the No. 1 defense and No. 1 pass defense and only getting one [first-team] All-Pro, that’s very suspect right there.” The news of the Pro Bowl came just days after the loss to the Steelers and safe to say the players did not approve of the shortage of Broncos, but were also not shocked.

“I mean we’re not surprised by anything. We’ve had the top-ranked D all year, no credit all year. We all know what it’s going to take to get that credit, but we’re just going to keep on strapping up, keep on playing,” Aqib Talib said Dec. 23 when asked about Pro Bowl snubs.

A few weeks later when the All-Pro nominations were disclosed, the orchestrator of the defense, coordinator Wade Phillips chimed in on the debate.

“I’m surprised that the No. 1 defense and pass defense didn’t get somebody in the secondary. I think that’s kind of surprising. I understand that we led the league in sacks, so Von’s up there and recognized, but I’m surprised that we don’t have one or two corners or even a safety as a [first-team] All-Pro. We had linebackers and d-linemen. We gave up the least yards per rush in the league, gave up the least yards per play and the least yards per pass. I thought we’d be represented a little more than that,” Phillips said Jan. 8.

When asked if the voting would motivate his players Phillips answered quickly, saying, “I know some of our guys will be, yeah. Sure. They take it personal. The vote of our coaches, for sure we would have at least three guys in that group because we watch film every week. We see who the best people are and ours are the best or we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Enter the rematch. Monday, the Broncos stood by their remarks last week that they were ready for anyone and their opponent did not matter. But if it is respect they want, the Steelers are the quickest way to get it. After the worst defensive performance of the season in Week 15, the Broncos have their shot at redemption. The key to their woes in the first game seem simple to Talib when he looked back at the film.

“We just need to tackle. We watched the tape, even in man coverage we were right there but we just missed a lot of tackles in crucial situations,” he said Monday.

Harris had his worst game of the season statistically, allowing 12 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns according to Pro Football Focus. After the loss, he placed the blame squarely on his shoulders and he seems to believe it cost him first-team All-Pro.

“My goal at the beginning of the year was definitely to get first-team All-Pro. I think I just had one bad game. I was this close to getting it,” he said Jan. 8.

Several of the defenders have excepted the lack of attention they feel they are getting from the outside world and are now focused on the task at hand that will ultimately command the respect they feel they deserve. The Steelers are simply the team that they must defeat to start the three-game winning streak needed for a championship.

“Obviously we are excited to play the Steelers because we took an ‘L’ to them earlier in the season,” Sylvester Williams said Monday. “We don’t get the respect we deserve, honestly I don’t know why and I don’t care. We are focused on one thing and that is getting a ring. It’s a new season and we are trying to go 1-0.”

All-Pro Miller stood up for his teammates weeks ago and may have the best approach to worrying about Pro Bowl snubs and lack of respect.

“From Malik [Jackson], Derek Wolfe all the way up to the safety position. There are a lot of snubs in there. Hopefully, like I’ve said before, we’ll be in Santa Clara and won’t have to go over there to Hawaii. That’s what I plan on. Hopefully none of that Pro Bowl stuff will matter because we’ll be in Santa Clara,” he said.

The Steelers represent the worst game of the Broncos defense’s season and more importantly are the first test on the team’s quest for a Vince Lombardi Trophy. If they can beat them in a rematch they can exorcise some demons while inching closer to that coveted ring. They showed that through two quarters last time they have a team that can stop Pittsburgh.

“This game is going to be different,” Jackson said defiantly Monday. “It is going to have a different ending and we are going to do it start to finish this time.”

The saying goes, “respect is not given, it is earned,” and the vast majority of respect in the NFL is not earned in the regular season. It is what happens in January and February that matters. Sunday’s playoff contest and rematch will certainly be a battle; whoever comes out on top will have earned a win and certainly a whole lot of respect.

Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick.