CINCINNATI -- Andrew Whitworth is in the middle of his eighth year living and working in this bustling city on the banks of the Ohio River.
In that time, he's seen some good and a whole lot of bad.
The Cincinnati Bengals left tackle has been part of games at Paul Brown Stadium when it seemed like "there were about 10 people in the stands." He's seen others when it felt like the opposing team's crowd outnumbered the hometown fans. He's also seen a few games like this season's Week 2, 3 and 5 showdowns that featured what may have been some of the loudest, most raucous and most energized spectators that have existed at a single Cincinnati sporting event in the last two decades.
This Sunday, though, he doesn't quite know what to expect when he steps foot on the familiar synthetic turf. With the Bengals still a couple thousand tickets short of a sellout, the atmosphere could end up being somewhere between the two extremes. Even though the team will likely draw a close-to sellout crowd, the concern that the Bengals may be in jeopardy of having their first blackout of the year does exist. That's not something Whitworth and his teammates are proud of, but it's something they understand.
It's also a sign, that they think their work is not yet complete.
"It's tough, but it's what we're used to," Whitworth said. "We have to play football and continue to try to create that environment where people buy in and want to come and watch and be a part of it. That's all we can do."
Ahead of Sunday's game against the New York Jets, the Bengals are hoping their fans can do just a little bit more purchasing. A spokesman said Wednesday that the team was still working on getting enough tickets together to garner a fourth consecutive sellout and to avoid the dreaded blackout. The Bengals have until 4 p.m. ET Thursday to hit that magic number of seats.
On Monday, manager of ticket sales, Andrew Brown, issued a statement that said the organization was still about 2,000 tickets short. Three days before, with the Bengals still sitting at 4-2 and about 48 hours away from beating the Detroit Lions, he said they were 3,000 shy.
Some of you are confident the Bengals will end up doing whatever they need to in order to get the final few tickets sold. So am I.
But the thing is, you're also wondering why this is even a story; why is it worth writing about?
The Bengals are 5-2, two games ahead of any other team in the division and are on a three-game winning streak. They are poised for a long postseason run, have columnists and bloggers and writers and television analysts across the country singing their praises, and yet they're having a little difficulty selling tickets to their games. Why is that? Particularly when it was so easy for tickets to the first three games to get picked up so easily?
"Maybe it's a little cold?" receiver Marvin Jones said, smiling. "Maybe it's just starting to be that time of the year."
Well, it did get into the 30s Wednesday, and forecasts for the next four days are calling for lows in both the 20s and 30s. So maybe he has a point. Jones also was quick to point out the nearby locale of Pittsburgh and the allure of wanting to see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady play earlier this season. Maybe he has another point.
Regardless, for the players themselves, there isn't a belief that the sluggish ticket sales ought to be questioned.
"We know we have great fans," he added. "Hopefully all the seats will be filled, but at the same time, we have to come and have that mindset that we've had the last few weeks and that's to put the hammer on the Jets."
Cincinnati certainly has done that to the other three teams it has faced at home this season. It beat Pittsburgh 20-10, got a timely fourth-down stop and subsequent fumble to knock off Green Bay 34-30, and eked out a 13-6 victory over the New England Patriots in a driving rainshower. Whitworth wishes the atmosphere's from those games would be replicated the rest of the season.
"In my career, these first couple of home games have been as loud and as great an environment as I've played in since I've been here," Whitworth said. "We've started to create that environment. Hopefully we can continue."
After finding it difficult to win at home the last three seasons, the Bengals are hoping to change the culture of their home gameday experience. They haven't had a winning record at home since 2009. That has been their only winning season at Paul Brown Stadium since 2005.
"A lot of the guys on this team weren't here then," said Whitworth, whose career began in 2006.
In his first three seasons as the Bengals' head coach, Marvin Lewis posted winning records before having just one in his next seven seasons. If he wants to make it two in eight, his team will have to continue forging through this year the way it already has, fans or no fans.
"There's going to be times, especially when you go on the road with the beating you take, traveling and all those things, where sometimes, that makes it harder," Whitworth said. "That's why having an environment that's tough for people to come in and play, where it's going to be loud and creating some energy and getting off to a good start is key."
Don't fret, Bengals. As long as you keep winning, that energy will come.