The Bengals' left guard called the offense together after Saturday afternoon's final walkthrough to give them his two cents worth of belief in the unit and how it needed to go out and not let other teams walk over them. Push came to shove in Sunday's 21-19 win against Jacksonville when Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson attacked Whitworth after the two had been battling on a pass play in the third quarter.
Henderson ripped the helmet off of Whitworth and then, after Whitworth had turned his back to Henderson, the defensive tackle came after Whitworth, wrapping both arms around Whitworth's head area and, according to Whitworth and Bengals left tackle Levi Jones, poking Whitworth in the eyes.
A fight worthy of WWE's Summer Slam ensued with players from both teams involved. Both Henderson and Whitworth were ejected from the game.
"Well, it certainly feels great to get a win and I was not involved in that scuffle," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "There were some big boys in there and I felt like my guys could hold their own."
Wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco tried to intervene and, of all things, calm down matters but he also thought it was a good thing for the team.
"I thought it got everyone fired up," said Ocho Cinco, who had five catches for 37 yards and two touchdowns. "It was unfortunate that he got thrown out, and it wasn't his fault. I was in the middle of up telling everyone they needed to stop before our checks come up short. That's what I was saying. I was talking to (Jacksonville linebacker) Mike Peterson and telling him to get his people because with everyone out there playing around when we get our checks we're going to be mad. If you hit a quarterback late you're going to get fined $35,000. What do you think they're going to give them for fighting?"
Getting fined wasn't the first thing on Whitworth's mind.
"It all started from the play before," said Whitworth. "The play before I blocked him and, then I was on the ground, and he came and swung and hit me in the helmet. It was just a blatant punch. Levi was screaming at the ref to throw something, and then when we stood up he kind of jabbed me in the face and I stood back and the ref still didn't throw anything so Levi is screaming at him "Are you going to throw anything?" And then the next play happened.
"He swam me to the outside, I pushed him and as he was falling he ripped at my helmet and ripped it off. I turned to go back to the play and the next thing I knew I had two fingers in my eyeballs. I tried to defend myself from there. That's it."
Henderson, who left the field waving to the not-so-endearing crowd in the north end zone, was not available for comment after the game and other Jaguar players were reluctant to discuss the matter.
Jones left no doubt who he blamed for the situation: referee Terry McAulay.
"(Henderson) clearly grabbed his facemask right in front of the ref, and I walked up to the ref and I said "Ref, you ain't going to do nothing about that?"" said Jones. "He said: "Well, what did he do the play before to start it?" I said "Ref, did you see him do anything the play before?" He kind of stood back, shook his head and said "No" and then didn't say anything else.
"Then when the play happened and they got into it and it all started – after me trying to break it up because being the good upstanding man that I am and I don't get into stuff like that – I told the ref: "That was your fault. That was your fault." And then he wanted to try to kick me out."
Jones was not ejected. Scott Kooistra replaced Whitworth in the lineup. Whitworth left the field to a standing ovation from fans.
The irony of the situation coming one day after his speech to the offense was not lost on Whitworth.
"Saturday after the walkthrough I called them up and I told them: "You know what? Who cares that we're 0-and-8 right now?" The fact is that no matter what we can go into games and people can think they can walk all over, people think that we're a joke and that's the thing – it's the pride that you have to play with and know that you're not going to bow down to anyone," said Whitworth. "Ironically enough, I got put into a situation where somebody was trying to push me around and I was able to fight back. Honestly, one of the reasons I did it was because I told the team I was here today to defend every one of them and show that we're going to play with pride, and it's ironic that I got put into that situation."
Neither Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis nor Jacksonville counterpart Jack Del Rio said that they had a good look at what had happened but both agreed that it is important that players be able to keep their composure in heated moments.
The Bengals led 21-3 at the time and would have converted a third-and-11 situation with a 23-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the play but all of that was wiped out because of the two disqualifications. Henderson was also called for illegal hands to the face on the play but everything was called as offsetting fouls and the Bengals were forced to replay the down.
Fitzpatrick was sacked on the replay down, the Bengals punted and Jacksonville would answer with a field goal on its ensuing drive to cut the Cincinnati lead to 21-6. Bengals kick returner Glenn Holt fumbled the ensuing kickoff, having the ball stripped from him by Jacksonville's Chad Nkang despite having both arms wrapped around it. Montell Owens picked up the loose ball and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown and, after the extra point, the Jaguars trailed by just eight points.
Whitworth and Henderson face possible disciplinary action from the NFL.
"I don't know how the NFL is going to rule it and you can say I was wrong for defending myself but at some point as a professional athlete I can't let some guy dig my eyeballs out of my face," said Whitworth. "I don't care what the situation is. I'll argue that to the end. There is nothing I can do but defend myself in that situation."