INGLEWOOD, Calif. — As the Los Angeles Rams warmed up at SoFi Stadium before Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the giant video screen hanging above the field was showing the Cincinnati Bengals storming back from an 18-point deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs before prevailing on a walk-off field goal in overtime.
Andrew Whitworth couldn’t stop looking up.
There was enough drama in the Bengals’ last-second win to capture anyone’s attention but especially that of the ageless left tackle, who spent the first 11 seasons of his NFL career in Cincinnati. And after the Rams pulled off their own comeback against the San Francisco 49ers to set up a date in Super Bowl LVI with his old team, Whitworth’s phone was predictably blowing up.
“I have obviously heard from a ton of people over there and it’s really cool and really special,” Whitworth said earlier this week. “Having a relationship with a lot of the staff over there still and some of the players and obviously all the relationships that we had over our time there in the city, it’s a really special place to us.”
The way Whitworth talks about the Bengals and the city of Cincinnati suggests he doesn’t view this as a revenge game. More like a reunion.
A second-round pick out of LSU in 2006, he made 168 starts for the Bengals during a time in which they were often good enough to win at least 10 games but never quite good enough to win in the playoffs, suffering wild-card-round exits in all six of their appearances during Whitworth’s time in Cincinnati.
When they beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild-card round last month, it gave the Bengals their first playoff win in 31 years.
“It’s been amazing,” Whitworth said of the their run to Super Bowl LVI under third-year coach Zac Taylor and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. “Still have some great relationships there. I’ve developed some new ones with different guys in that locker room. I think my wife and I just watching them from afar, it’s been so exciting. We’re tuned in the whole time.
“I was so amped for the [NFC Championship] game [Sunday] but then also at the same time I hardly couldn’t stop looking at the screen because I knew how close they were to pulling it off. What an awesome accomplishment that is.”
One of those strong relationships Whitworth mentioned is with Taylor, who spent two seasons as a Rams’ offensive assistant under Sean McVay. The Bengals hired him a day after Los Angeles lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
“Having a guy like Zac Taylor here and knowing who he is and being excited about him going there, I can remember that decision back when we were going to that Super Bowl the first time,” Whitworth said. “I was excited for him and excited for the city of Cincinnati. Even more so now I think that they get to see what a great guy Zac Taylor is, what a leader he is and what a great coach he is. And also obviously this great young talent they’ve added and how special Joe Burrow is.”
While there’s no hint of resentment in the way Whitworth talks about his former team, Bengals fans might be miffed over the way the organization let him walk as a free agent in 2017. He was 35 at the time but was coming off his third Pro Bowl and had been named a first team All-Pro the season before. He played in all 16 games in nine of his 11 seasons with the team.
The Rams made him one of McVay’s first free-agent additions, signing him to a three-year, $33.75 million deal. The Bengals tried without much success to replace him with Cedric Ogbuehi and Cordy Glenn the next two seasons before drafting Jonah Williams 11th overall in 2019, but Williams missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, Whitworth ranks second in ESPN’s pass block win rate among offensive tackles since 2017. He was a Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro during his first season in Los Angeles.
“He sure has meant a lot to this organization both on and off the field,” McVay said earlier this season, shortly before Whitworth became only the fifth offensive lineman since the 1970 merger to play in a game at 40 years old. “I think sometimes you take for granted that he’s 40 years old. If you didn’t know with the bald head and stuff like that, I mean he moves around like he’s young and he’s got great athleticism.”
Whitworth is signed through 2022 with a scheduled cap charge north of $17 million next season. That’s a big number for a team that will have to clear space before free agency to get under the salary cap.
He said earlier this season that the only way he’d retire after this year is if the Rams couldn’t afford him “or there’s just some way where it doesn’t work out for the both of us for me to be back.”
Super Bowl LVI may or may not be a ride-off-into-the-sunset game for Whitworth.
But it doesn’t sound like a revenge game.
“I told Zac Taylor this [Sunday] night when we spoke, ‘Both places have my heart and both places have people I believe in,'” Whitworth said. “So really special and cool moment for me to get to play in this game and play against a place that means so much to me.”
Information from ESPN NFL Nation reporters Ben Baby and Lindsey Thiry was used in this story.