In the last minutes of Monday night's 20-10 victory over the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium, an emotional Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth walked off the field after his second and final verbal joust with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu as he raised his arms and the sellout crowd of 64,585 roared.
!(http://www.pntrac.com/t/4-77849-83508-55814)"He was mad. He got thrown down and he came running over there to hit me," said a smiling Whitworth. "He's coming over to give me a little love, a little respect. He's a great player. It's a battle. It's Steelers-Bengals. I wouldn't expect anything less."
Whitworth bowed his back like he did that day five years ago when he stood up to Jacksonville's John Henderson and got ejected to the crowd's delight. After not practicing much with a variety of knee ailments this past training camp and just three weeks removed from a procedure on his left knee, Whitworth revealed he also needed treatment on his right knee.
He started after missing last week's opener and figures he played three series for every one that Anthony Collins replaced him.
Whitworth returned to practice this week, but he said when he went down to equipment manager Jeff Brickner's equipment room before the game Monday, it was the first time he had worn thigh and knee pads all year.
"I was emotional before the game; it's been a tough road," Whitworth said. "It was one thing after another. I didn't know when I was ever going to get back on the field. It meant a lot to be back out there."
It also meant a lot to stand up to Polamalu.
"I want to be the guy bringing that intensity. I want the guys to know there's somebody in the huddle who's got their backs," Whitworth said. "I feel like this huddle knows when I'm in there; nobody's going to get messed with because they know I've got their back. I'll handle that. They know that."
PEKO GETS FULL: **There was one guy even more excited about defensive tackle Domata Peko's work at fullback Monday night than Peko.
"I wish he played offense," said running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the beneficiary of Peko's bowling ball blocks on the Bengals final series. "When he comes through, it's automatic movement. Boom! And then you do the rest."
The 6-3, 322-pound Peko first appeared in the third quarter on a third-and-one from the Steelers 40. BJGE converted for a two-yard run behind Peko and left guard Clint Boling to set up running back Giovani Bernard's 27-yard catch-and-run touchdown that snapped a 10-10 tie.
Then with the Bengals leading, 20-10, and 4:55 left from the Bengals 13, BJGE and Peko mashed for 10 yards on the next two carries. Peko's lead on third-and-six for an eight-yard gain was the classic case of delivering Pittsburgh its own medicine.
"I love playing fullback. Offense is awesome," Peko said. "I love it. It's a great opportunity to go out there and do what the coaches want me to do. I see a different color helmet in front of me, I just want to try and run them over."
Peko invoked the mythical name of William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the Bears massive Super Bowl D-tackle who doubled as a fullback in the late '80s when Peko was about five or six. "I used to watch or heard about when I was little Refrigerator Perry," Peko said. "I'm trying to do that. I might not be as big as Refrigerator, so maybe I can be Ice Box. The more you can do in this business, man."