Bengals veterans bemoan 'lack of respect' among NFL players

CINCINNATI -- Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth longs for the days when he could battle an opposing player in the trenches for 60 minutes and then enjoy a friendly handshake with him afterward.

He and others in the Bengals locker room don't believe those days exist in today's NFL, and they don't like that.

"The truth is, respect is the No. 1 thing that makes this game great," the 10-year, Pro Bowl veteran said in front of his empty locker Monday. "The guys that you knew went out there and competed and tore people's heads off and played as hard as can be, then shook that guy's hand and said, 'Thanks for competing with me.'

"Those are the guys who are legends of this game. To me, this year has been a year where you've seen a lack of respect."

Whitworth spoke two days after his team was eliminated from the playoffs in part because of a pair of late personal-foul penalties on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones. The infractions moved the Steelers into chip-shot field goal range in the final seconds of a wild-card game the Bengals had once looked like a lock to win.

Instead, Chris Boswell's 35-yard field goal won the game for the Steelers and ended the Bengals' season.

Burfict's penalty, one given after he struck Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's head a split second after an overthrow, contributed to the NFL announcing Monday night it was suspending him for the first three games of the 2016 season.

Burfict may not be the only player to catch the NFL's wrath. Steelers assistants Joey Porter and Mike Munchak are subject to fines for their roles in incidents both on Pittsburgh's sideline and on the field during the game. Other questionable hits from the contest have merited the league's review, too.

The way that game played out, and the one a month prior that resulted in nearly $140,000 in fines for players on both teams, fell in line with the lacking respect the Bengals have sensed.

"The lesson is: under stressful situations like that, keep your composure. And just to be a professional," Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko said.

It was after meetings with head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday that Peko said the Bengals have already "hit the hammer on the nail" as it pertains to playing with better discipline in 2016.

"Coach has already said that moving forward here, we're not going to do things [like what happened Saturday]," Peko said. "If anybody is having any arguments with referees, he's going to get you out of there. Moving forward, we're going to make that change, and it's a good change."

"The respect for the game and each other is important," Lewis said. "You talk to a guy who played in the NFL ... you can feel it in their voice; the gratitude and respect and the privilege to be out there as an NFL player and how fortunate they feel. We can't lose sight of that."