A.J. Green's TD catch put the Bengals ahead for good Sunday.
Peyton Manning's return meant a Broncos' victory and a Bengals' rematch with the Steelers in Saturday night's Wild Card Game (8:15 p.m.Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.
"The rubber match,' said Whitworth of a series that was split this season so nastily after the Bengals' 24-16 victory over the Ravens Sunday at PBS in the season finale.
No one on this Bengals roster was here ten years ago; when the Steelers tore Carson Palmer's ACL on the second snap of the 2005 Wild Card Game at PBS and went on to beat the Bengals, 30-17.
Head coach Marvin Lewis was,
"Time to right the ship. Exorcism," Lewis said.
But his players were all here the last time the two met back on Dec. 13 at PBS in a game marred by fines, penalties, and short tempers and promises to be another passion play a decade in the making. That 33-20 Pittsburgh win in the game the Bengals lost quarterback Andy Dalton with a broken throwing thumb is the only game the Bengals lost in the AFC North this season. Cincinnati's 5-1 division record is the best in the North since the Ravens' 6-0 sweep in 2011.
And it looks like the Steelers get another backup quarterback 10 years after Jon Kitna when Andy Dalton upped his record to 2-1 in place of Dalton.
"We've talked about that game as a group,' said cornerback Adam Jones. "We're not going to have the penalties we had the last time."
Whitworth, whose offensive line oversaw 145 yards rushing against the NFL's 11th best rush defense, likes the idea of playing a familiar opponent.
"I think the people worry about the rematches, but when you know each other better that gives you a better opportunity for success,' Whitworth said. "You just see it in our series and in our division. We play each other tight. It's a game you know each other. It's just about execution. Sometimes when you play team like the Jets (that you don't know)," there a lot to learn.
"We hadn't played San Francisco in so long,' Whitworth said of the win two weeks ago. "It took so long to learn about them."
Several Bengals were unhappy with how they lost their composure last month. Whitworth and left end Carlos Dunlap say it won't happen again. It was Whitworth who ripped the league for failing to take action against Steelers linebacker Vine Williams for tweeting a threat to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict after the first game, which he says spawned the bad feeling last month.
"We'll be ready," said linebacker Vincent Rey. "We weren't poised the last time we played them. We get a chance to redeem ourselves."
Whitworth says it's a different game now.
"That game means nothing," Whitworth said. "They're going to come in here, the winner goes on to the playoffs. It's not a division game or for the championship of the division. It's not about personal disagreements . . . We know them. They know us. Let's play ball. It's always emotional. It's Cincinnati-Pittsburgh. It has been for a long time."
Dunlap wasn't there in '05. But this is his fifth straight postseason.
"That's how that game is," Dunlap said. "You have to control your emotions. Use them for the betterment; you don't want to let them get the best of you. It's easier said than done. But we're all veterans. "We've been through this before. It's not our first rodeo. We understand what's at stake."
Tight end Tyler Eifert got knocked out of that Dec. 13 game with a concussion on a head shot that Steelers safety Mike Mitchell got flagged. But Eifert just wants to play.
"They're a really good football team on both sides of the ball. It would be a good test for us. The atmosphere (here at Paul Brown Stadium) will be rocking. It will be a big playoff atmosphere. It will be a lot of fun," he said.
UP AND ADAM: The Bengals were in the throes of an offensive struggle when cornerback Adam Jones charged over to wide receiver A.J. Green's huddle.
"You know what I said. 'Somebody has to step the bleep up,'" Jones said. "I said it to all of them. I don't bite my tongue."
Green, who responded with the touchdown that put the Bengals ahead for good at 14-9 early in the third quarter, heard him.
"He said, 'You've got to get something going,'" Green said. "He's emotional. We need that."
Running back Jeremy Hill heard it, too.
"Just simple stuff," Hill said. "It's leadership on our team. Just pushing each other." …
MILESTONES: The playoff watch jockeyed with two significant achievements for storylines in the post-game locker room.
The win left the Bengals 12-4, tying the franchise best set 27 years by the AFC North champs and the best in head coach Marvin Lewis' 13 seasons. It was a special moment for Whitworth, the oldest man on the roster at age 34, and nose tackle Domata Peko, his 2006 draft classmate playing his 101st straight game. They've done everything they can do but win a play-off game.
Cincinnati Bengals host the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in week 17 of the regular season.
"Every year we've improved. Now we're 12-4. That's a heck of an accomplishment," Whitworth said. "Domata and myself have been here for a long time and we've worked hard here. It's crazy. In 2009 we both became captains. Since then we've been in the playoffs six out of seven years. It's a huge accomplishment. It's something I think we're extremely proud of. We want to keep it rolling. The search for that first play-off win and hopefully get the Super Bowl."
The defense set the record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 279 even though they allowed Baltimore to convert 60 percent of their 20 third-down attempts. But in classic 2015 fashion, the Bengals found a way not to give up a lot of points. In the second half they basically turned it over four times with two fourth-down stops and interceptions by linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga.
Left end Carlos Dunlap, who finished with a team-high 13.5 sacks that is the best in club history since the league started recognizing stats, hoped the defense kept the scoring title once the season ended Sunday night.
"That's huge. To be a part of Bengals history," Dunlap said. "To get a team goal. I got my personal goal last week. We've had a great year. I'm excited, but now it time for the playoffs." . . . .
SLANTS AND SCREENS: After SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur surfaced on crutches in the locker room, the fear is he's lost for the year . . .
The Bengals went 0-9 on third down, the first time they whiffed on all third downs in a win since the 1995 opener in Indianapolis . . .
Safety Reggie Nelson, who went into the game tied for the NFL interceptions lead with Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters with eight, had a chance for number nine and he dropped it in the fourth quarter.
"I don't care. We won. I dropped it. Flat out," Nelson said . . .