Whitworth, a onetime Bengals player rep, was incensed that the league didn't punish Steelers linebacker Vince Williams for a series of tweets Williams directed at Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict following the teams' Nov. 1 meeting. The tweets have since been deleted.
According to Whitworth and others in Cincinnati's locker room, it was those tweets that set off Burfict before Sunday's game and caused him to come face mask to face mask with Williams near midfield.
"I'll get in trouble for this, but this is the NFL's fault," Whitworth said. "The bottom line is, I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, I love Mike Tomlin, but they had a player that made a death threat to one of ours after the last game about spilling his blood in the streets, and everyone saw it, and the NFL did nothing about it.
"And so they allowed there to be that kind of animosity and that kind of thing around."
Burfict and Williams triggered a brief skirmish at midfield while both teams were stretching about a half-hour before Sunday's AFC North showdown at Paul Brown Stadium, which the Steelers won 33-20. The incident was caught by television cameras from CBS, which broadcast the game.
The skirmish didn't last long, and it didn't appear any punches were thrown. Both players were quickly pulled out of the fray, with James Harrison and Adam Jones among the mediators. Jones, who missed the game with a foot injury and was wearing a protective boot, stood at midfield for the remainder of the warm-up period.
Jones directed a taunt at the Steelers through a video he posted on his Instagram account before Sunday's game. After the game, Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert took exception to Jones' post on Twitter and expressed a desire to meet the Bengals a potential third time this season -- in the playoffs.
No we are not thugs. We are professionals that seems to own the bengals 🐯 don't get mad bro 😂— Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88) December 14, 2015
All I want for Christmas is the bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke. The talking is done between the lines 🌕🌑— Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88) December 14, 2015
Not everyone's tempers flared over the pregame confrontation, however.
"I was looking for [Andy] Dalton to see if he wanted to go or not," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked. "We said it would be really funny -- Andy and I get along -- if we would have had some fight and we were rolling around."
Williams' tweets came in the hours after Burfict had tackled Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell from behind during the November game, then got up and immediately celebrated the hit. Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury on the play.
"How people react to hits, that's happened throughout the league since the game began," Whitworth said. "How Vontaze reacted to Le'Veon Bell getting hurt, it happens in the game. He had no clue he was that hurt. It could be a sprain. It could be anything else.
"But when you allow guys to talk about barbaric things off the football field, and in this day and age of our country? And you allow guys to talk about things like that, it's on Roger Goodell and the NFL. They should have done something. They should have stepped up. They should have made sure that players know that kind of attitude and that kind of character is not involved in the league. That's their fault. It's on their head."
Whitworth said the most concerning part about Williams' tweets, which mentioned he would "paint" Burfict when he saw him in public, was the fact that they referenced hurting the player away from the field.
"That involves when someone's with their little kid in the street, that they have to worry about if someone's going to walk up on them and do something to them outside the game of football," Whitworth said.
In Sunday's loss, Burfict finished with a game-high 11 tackles and Williams had two, including a half-sack.
ESPN.com Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.