Andrew Whitworth made the NFL's Top 100 Players this week, but he had a more special moment.
You can almost hear the NFL Network's own amazement at itself.
Yes, the man says, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth made his first top 100 players list as voted by the players themselves for the first time. No. 67, revealed this week.
Never mind that in 2014 profootballfocus.com rated him the best overall tackle in the game and best pass blocker, allowing no sacks and one hit on quarterback Andy Dalton.
Never mind that this past season PFF put him at Nos. 4 and 9, respectively. And never mind that Whitworth has hardly flinched since the Bengals put him at left tackle in 2009. They've gone to six postseasons since and Whitworth is one of the solid, stately reasons. He simply doesn't let anyone get to the quarterback, whether it is Dalton, Carson Palmer, or Andy Dalton and he doesn't seem to mind the league's Network just found out he runs down field like a dashing tight end to finish off blocks.
"They come in and they give you sheets of paper (to vote on) and there's some other stuff on there," Whitworth said this week. "It's not a perfect system . .. I haven't really paid much attention to it. I've always thought it was neat if I knew someone that made the list and that it was good for them and I see it the same way for me. It's cool to be on the list. You take it as a token of appreciation for what you do and move on . . . It's one of those things where it's an incentive to keep performing."
Isn't this always the way? We went over this ground at the end of the season when he was voted to his second Pro Bowl when it probably should have been his fourth or fifth and maybe sixth.
"Last year we were a dominant team and being on prime time a lot just helped get more of our players recognized and I think I benefitted from that as well," Whitworth said. "It's always against you when you're not on a big market team and you don't carry a big name (read: not drafted in the first round) and then you play a position that doesn't really have a lot of stats . . . Even though I've never got a lot of attention in the media, I've always felt it after games when different linemen would come up to me and tell me how much they liked watching my tape or watching me play."
Top 100 lists and Pro Bowls are not the moments Whitworth craves. In this week of No. 67, a much more significant milestone occurred when Whitworth ran into Dwight Freeney in the Bengals locker room. Freeney is making visits to determine his next stop in his 15th season before Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and when they saw each other they allowed a brief hug and the mutual respect to sink in.
"We didn't even really talk about football. We just caught up," Whitworth said. "You're talking about one of the most dominant pass rushers of the last 20 years. Either him or John Abraham. That's what I was telling our young defensive linemen. Enjoy this moment. Take advantage of it. In the last 20 years I don't think there's been a more dangerous pass rusher on third-and-long."
That's where Freeney got Whitworth last year in Arizona. Third-and-long. Backed up. It brought back memories of when Freeney terrorized left tackles with the help of a dome crowd in Indianapolis.
That night in Arizona, one of those national TV appearances the Bengals lit it up but couldn't win at the end, Whitworth dueled with Freeney, playing on the Cardinals' four-man line on third-and-long situations. That was the only sack he allowed him that night, but Whitworth figures with 3.5 sacks Freeney has more sacks against him than anyone alive.
In fact, Whitworth believes Freeney and Elvis Dumervil are the only two guys to have a two-sack game against him. For Freeney, you have to go back to that rabid dome crowd and Whitworth's rookie year of 2006.
When Whitworth and backup right tackle Eric Winston, another member of that '06 class, got to talking about Freeney, they decided there just wasn't any tape out there of a tackle that could block him one-on-one.
"He had the whole package," Whitworth said. "He's got a lot of power, he's got get off, he's got spin, he's got the outside move, the inside move and he can run through you. The thing that made him a really special player is that his first step was so fast. He got on you before you almost knew what in the world you were doing."
After watching him talk to the young D-linemen, Whitworth knows Freeney can mentor. In fact, two old men of the league, Whitworth and head coach Marvin Lewis with their 36 years of NFL experience, got a kick out of the young linemen circled around Freeney in homage.
But Whitworth, who played him last season, and some with the Bengals that watched him work against Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, think he can still play.
"Shoot, you can't take anything away from him. He's a guy with special abilities, Whitworth said. "He still has some explosion. He definitely has some power. Watching him play Joe and other guys, he has the ability to push the pocket, that's for sure."
The NFL Network 100 might have been nice. But when it's all said and done about this week, Whitworth is going to remember the Freeney moment.
DUNLAP 70: Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Carlos Dunlap got the nod in the top 100 at No. 70 as the Bengals make a bid to have the most players on the list. A.J. Green and Geno Atkins are definitely on there, quarterback Andy Dalton could be, and WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict should be.
Dunlap must have read Whitworth's mind because here was his tweet: "Honored to Get Foot in Door #NFLTop 100 but Motivated To Move Up in Ranks! Thanks to My Teammates#WhoDey."
SAFETY MAN: Count Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones as a big supporter of new starting safety Shawn Williams. He's never backed away from his belief that the loss of Pro Bowl safety Reggie Nelson is going to hurt from a feel perspective on the field, particularly when it comes to blitzing. But Jones thinks Williams is more than deserving.
"Shawn could have been the starter two years ago. He's waited his turn," Jones said, "He's a smart guy who plays hard, plays physical. When he hits you, you know he hits you. That's good for the team. He can come downhill and hit a guy, he can cover you. The only thing he has to work on is the blitz."
But even though Nelson now plays for the Raiders, Jones figures he'll still give Williams tips.
"I'm sure they've already texted each other," Jones said after Tuesday's first spring practice. "Unless Reggie's still in practice."