Vets vow no hangover

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Andrew Whitworth, ready to return for an 11th season in 2016, sees no hangover.

The two guys who were around here in 2006, the 8-8 year after that traumatic play-off loss to the Steelers ten years ago, say the Bengals won't have any kind of a hangover after coming so agonizingly close to post-season victory on Saturday night.

"This is a much different team than that one," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth on Mop Up Monday. "Just the resolve we've shown. People can criticize this team for (not winning) playoff appearances. But they have to acknowledge the resolve that this team has shown to get back to the playoffs. It's tremendous."

Like the '05 team, the '15 team absorbed a crusher. Ten years ago they lost their quarterback on the field, their composure in the locker room, and some players never thought they regained it until they returned to the playoffs again in 2009 despite having a young roster.

But nose tackle Domata Peko, also a rookie in 2006, doesn't see his defense going backward. They could lose starting safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, starting cornerback Adam Jones, and slot corner Leon Hall in free agency, but they hope to get at least a couple back and the  front seven is intact, led by Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, left end Carlos Dunlap, and WILL backer Vontaze Burfict.

"There aren't many teams that have been to playoffs five straight years," Peko said. "Andy (Dalton) is back. On defense most of our key pieces are here. Geno is playing at a high level and Tez is playing at a Pro Bowl level."

It was tough, though. So close. Peko went to his club suite after the game and his family was in tears. Linebacker Vincent Rey's dad was visiting this weekend and when he wanted to watch the Sunday games, his son had to leave the room. He can't watch yet.

"We had it," Peko said. "I thought the curse was over."

Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium for the Wild Card playoff game 1/9/2016

There are those that believe '15 was a last-shot-window-is-closing-for-the-playoffs season because along with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's inevitable departure for a head coaching job, the Bengals have six starters and seven regulars headed to free agency. But head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't sound worried because the core (and we have to be talking Dalton, Whitworth, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Atkins, Dunlap, and Burfict with leaders like Peko, right end Michael Johnson) is coming back.

"We've had more free agents in other years," Lewis said. "When I looked, it wasn't as many as I expected, so I do feel good about things. I think the core is here, I think positionally we're in good shape."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who was also here in '05 and '06, doesn't sense anything like '06. Particularly on his side of the ball.

"It's like night and day," Guenther said of the defense compared to last year at this time. "Our great players played great for most of the season and guys were in new roles guys and we're healthier than a year ago. I see us having a number of guys coming back. I think we have a good team here for years to come. We just have to put this behind us.

"You could have said the same thing last year. We lost the AFC North, we lost in the playoffs, they picked us as the AFC team to fall the farthest.  I think we have good team with a bunch of good guys that will respond."

Whitworth doesn't like the '06 comparison. He said there was no hangover since they started 3-0 (with, by the way, a win in Pittsburgh) and what hurt them more than anything that year was a spate of injuries in the second game that claimed for the year their starting center in Rich Braham, starting SAM backer and nickel end David Pollack, and their kick returner/Mohamad Sanu type receiver in Tab Perry.

Plus, he says, the locker chemistry is so much better than '06.

"To go through the heartbreak we've been through and come back the next year and still continue to line up and beat teams and get ourselves in the playoffs, we've laid down for nobody and that's an exceptional quality to have," Whitworth said. "I think the good thing about this team is we've been through some tough ones. That's why I say we'll have the same resolve. We'll come back next year and try to be 13-3. That's what we've been able to do the last five years."

 
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