* BENGALS LT ANDREW WHITWORTH VS. RAVENS OLB TERRELL SUGGS*
Suggs, the most prolific sacker on the NFL's most prolific defense of the last generation in earning the nickname "T-Sizzle," has spent most of his 12 seasons in the NFL dusting it up with Whitworth. Whitworth, the ballast of a Bengals offense that has solved the Ravens four of the last five years at Paul Brown Stadium, has yet to give him a sack.
As Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander says, "If you don't have tackles, you don't beat Baltimore. You don't win the game."
And yet as they prepare for another one of those Wild Wild Card Games Sunday at PBS (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) with playoff implications and first place on the line in the AFC North, they've never had a conversation that has gone beyond, "Good game. Good luck. See you next time."
"We might talk between snaps, but there's not too much trash talking," Suggs says. "I haven't really had a conversation with him. I've never heard throughout the NFL that he's a bad guy, so I have no animosity toward him. Just respect."
Here's something Suggs probably doesn't know about his rival. Whitworth is married to a former Miss Louisiana who never won Miss Congeniality when it comes to football. As Whitworth rode home from last Sunday's horrific 27-0 loss in Indianapolis, his Cajun queen, two weeks away from delivering their fourth child, fired off a text to him.
"She's already got a lot on her plate this week and she gave me a speech about being a leader and how much this team needs me and what a critical time this is for me to step up for my team," Whitworth says. "She said whatever I had to do this week, however much time I needed to be here and not with her, she understood.
"That's my family. She gets that. She understands that's part of it. It's my life. She helps make it possible."
No matter what he does Sunday against Suggs and tag-team partner Elvis Dumervil, Whitworth's biggest contribution this week is probably in the locker room as the Bengals try to pull out of an 0-2-1 spin.
This week is a week where he'll watch a few more cutups of Bengals Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz on his iPad. A week he'll stay a little later with the offensive line, spend a little more time with the defense, linger a little longer in head coach Marvin Lewis' office.
"Whit's one of the leaders. A guy that drives home the message from the coaches," says left guard Clint Boling. "You don't just need coaches to send the message. You need players, too. He's like a player coach. We always know it's going to be physical when we play Baltimore and that's the message. Be physical and put the last game behind you."
When Whitworth got his belated Pro Bowl invite two years ago, he went to school at the feet of the master.
"One thing I took from that week was how Peyton Manning pushes himself and the guys around him and the guys that coach him and how he holds all of them to such a high standard," Whitworth says. "You realize at a certain point in this game it's about making sure that everybody, players and coaches, are all on the same accord, all have the same accountability.
"I'm a Batman guy. There's a great line. You either die the super hero or live long enough to be the villain. You stay long enough, you wear people out…It's not about feelings with me. I want to win. Push each other to win is what I want to do."
Batman struck again this week. Or at least helped the Gotham citizenry when the team's leadership group convinced Lewis to blast some music on to the field for the first two periods of practice Thursday.
"There was some pep in the step," Whitworth says.
Suggs may not read this, but Whitworth will. He vacuums any written word about his opponents. For instance, he saw this from Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones the week of the New England game:
"He looks a lot stronger (this season)," Jones said of Whitworth. "From watching him on film, I see him tossing guys around and throwing them to the ground. He looks aggressive. That's something I'm going to have to work on in keeping balanced and things like that.
"I feel like he's one of the best tackles in the NFL, honestly, from watching him on film."
Profootbalfocus.com, which grades every NFL player, agrees. Since the web site's inception, Whitworth is routinely at the top of its charts for pass blocking and he's currently tied for second with Washington's Trent Williams and behind Cleveland's Joe Thomas. But he's given up fewer sacks than Thomas by 1-0 and fewer QB hits than Williams by 3-1. Whitworth also agrees with Jones that he's stronger this year after losing two games to his knee problem in 2013 and say it's the best he's felt physically in three of four years even though he turns 33 in seven weeks.
This has to be the PFF Game of the Week. Suggs is rated the site's best overall 3-4 outside linebacker and No. 3 pass rusher. Dumervil is rated the top rusher. And the Bengals shut them out for sacks in the Sept. 7 opener.
"Knowledge is power," Whitworth says. "I always try to find out what a guy may be thinking about me or what he thinks about himself. You're always looking for something."
Which is why the 6-7, 325-pound Whitworth and the 6-3, 260-pound Suggs talk about each other in pleasant platitudes and generalities.
Suggs: "He's huge. You don't get too many left tackles that big, you can't run around the guy because he's so big and you can't run through him because he's so big. He's a rare tackle that poses those kinds of problems. Yeah.. .We had our share of battles, and if you ask me, he's gotten the best of them. We'll just have to see how things shake out on Sunday."
Whitworth: "I love Suggs as a player. He's what football is all about. He's physical, he's in on every snap. I've got a lot of respect for a guy like that. The guy plays every week. Pass. Run. He never excuses himself from the game. You can't help but respect a guy like that."
Suggs, who turned 32 a few weeks ago, is up to his old tricks with 2.5 sacks this season and he's now three away from 100 for his career. Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander doesn't mind double-teaming the cliché.
"Watching (Whitworth and Suggs) is worth the price of admission by itself," Alexander says. "Suggs is terrific. Explosive. Tough. Tenacious. He's more physical than most players in the league and a lot of guys get intimidated by that and he's able to feast on it. All I know is that Whit's not afraid of anybody."
Suggs isn't going to tip his hand, either, when asked if Whitworth has changed down through the years.
"He's always going to be big, and there ain't no changing that," Suggs says. "That's his biggest weapon. And it's worked out for him."
No wonder they call him "Big Whit."
Alexander calls it, "the perfect combination of long and strong."
That hasn't always helped him against the 5-11, 253-pound Dumervil. As far as Whitworth knows, he and Dwight Freeney are the only guys with multiple sacks against him. Freeney got him when he was a rookie. Dumervil's leverage has been a bit confounding. And last year when he got Whitworth twice in the same series, Whitworth was nursing a bad knee and an inexplicable game plan in Baltimore.
"We threw the ball 52 times, nobody was open and we held the ball," Whitworth says. "Dumervil is a great rusher. Kind of like James Harrison, but faster. You look at the film and he's always besides the quarterback every single play. You have to slow him down, but he'll get there eventually, trust me."
Dumervil has seven sacks already with four games of at least 1.5 and Whitworth will see him some on Sunday because he and Suggs flip sides from time to time. But mostly, like always, it will be Whitworth and Suggs.
And Whitworth is getting a little help from Travis Brammer, the Bengals vicar of video.
Alexander says one of Whitworth's strengths is film study. He understands it and enjoys it. Players have a short day on Fridays, but Whitworth often stays until late afternoon watching everyone from Suggs to Walter Jones, the Seattle tackle just inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Brammer has been a big help unearthing tape of the top tackles in this century and Whitworth takes a look, as well as reviewing some Willie Anderson, his former teammate and greatest right tackle in Bengals history. When Whitworth approached him a few weeks ago and said he had never seen the greatest left tackle on tape, Brammer went to work and came up with a Munoz link for Whitworth's iPad.
"I've known about Anthony, obviously," Whitworth says. "I've talked to him and I know what a great guy he is and what a great player he was. It's an honor to be able to watch him play. Not only such a good athlete, but tenacious and tough."
There is a baby on the way and tape to watch from '88. Whitworth is preparing in hopes the past and future cover him in Sunday's very big present