Updated: 11-22-09, 9:45 a.m.
SAN RAMON, Calif. - Solomon Wilcots is working Sunday's game for CBS here against the Raiders, which means he could call the first Bengals 8-2 start since his 1988 AFC champions launched themselves to within 34 seconds of a Super Bowl title.
And Wilcots loves these guys' toughness and take-no-prisoners attitude. He says they are better than the 2005 AFC North champs and are on a par with that '88 team that won homefield advantage for the playoffs.
"When was the last time you saw a Bengals team take the field saying, 'We're going to kick your butt?' They expect to win. They don't hope to win," Wilcots says. "This team has a mental makeup unlike any team I've seen them have. Their 2005 division champions weren't intimidating. They survived their way to 11 wins. This team is rocking people's worlds."
He especially likes the Bengals defense, which Wilcots says is better than the unit that started him at free safety. He was part of a brilliant playoff effort allowing Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Joe Montana a combined three touchdowns in the last two games. And during the season they finished a middle-of-the-pack 15th in defense. But he says the '09 Bengals are better up front.
"We had to play with coverage. This team rushes the passer like you're supposed to. Look what they did last week to (Ben) Roethlisberger," Wilcots says of the win in Pittsburgh. "We had our enforcer in the middle in (nose tackle) Tim Krumrie, but we didn't have edge rushers like they do. All of our playmakers were in the back end. When you've got playmakers in the front end, now you've got something."
Wilcots won't go ahead and say this secondary is better than his "SWAT Team" that paired him with Pro Bowl strong safety David Fulcher and was bookended by emerging Pro Bowler Eric Thomas and the solid Lewis Billups at cornerbacks. Yet Wilcots says this secondary can physically go toe-to-toe with that one. He used to kid former Bengals free safety Madieu Williams back in '05 that his guys didn't hit all that much and were merely playing seven-on-seven. But he has loved the way the current free safety, Chris Crocker, has played ever since he came into the NFL.
"I don't know why Miami let him go. Thank goodness, right?" he says. "When I played, I hit and tackled and got dirty. They've got two corners (Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph) that don't mind getting dirty. They hit you. I love ET and Lew, but they didn't hit like those guys."
Wilcots sees only seven wins. He thinks they can be, but he's waiting to see. This game is a big one in forming his opinion because he remembers that game in '88 when the Bengals traveled to the Coast to play the then Los Angeles Raiders, a very good team led by Marcus Allen that Cincinnati manhandled, 45-21, to go to 5-0.
"This game is kind of like that one; a West Coast game," he says. "And we smoked them. Now we're talking about the New Englands and the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego. Beating the very best this league has to offer. All they've done is slay the dragon in their division. Now is the next challenge. ... If this is what they want it to be, they go out there (Sunday) and don't give them a chance."
Whatever happens, Wilcots is going to have fun calling it. He's enjoyed it so far.
"I'm very surprised," he says of their season. "I love 'em."
HALL CALL: This is why Andrew Whitworth loves playing left tackle. Last week it was NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. This week it is Raiders future Hall of Famer Richard Seymour.
Harrison had a sack, but it stopped a binge in which he had seven sacks in five games and, maybe more importantly, Whitworth frustrated him enough that Harrison blew his cool and drew a 15-yard penalty in the Bengals' last drive.
The 6-6, 310-pound Seymour isn't cut from the same cloth as Harrison and the other edge rushers Whitworth is used to seeing.
"He's big and powerful, bigger than most 4-3 ends," Whitworth says. "But he's fast enough to play outside. He's like (the Ravens') Trevor Pryce, only he's bigger and stronger than Price. Richard is still a good player. A Hall of Famer. Big, long arms and powerful. That's why I love playing left tackle. Last week I got to play a Super Bowl MVP (almost) and now a guy going to Canton."
At the end of the game, Whitworth always manages to say something to his foe. He especially wants to make sure he does Sunday.
"Even Harrison and I said something after the deal we had," Whitworth says. "He said, 'Good game, good game. Hopefully we'll see y'all again.' With Richard I'll tell him it was great playing him. I played against him when he was with New England and this is going to be exciting, too."
*SLANTS AND SCREENS: *The Bengals pulled in here about 12:30 p.m. local time Saturday for Sunday's 1:15 p.m. game that will be seen back in Cincinnati at 4:15 p.m ... They arrived without linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald, back in Cincinnati recovering from a bout of pneumonia and reportedly better but still unable to travel ... One of his starters probably won't play, either. WILL linebacker Keith Rivers (calf) along with running back Cedric Benson (hip) could very well be in inactive.