All week long prior to the game I read the interviews coming from Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris. As I read Raheem's words though, I heard Mike Tomlin's voice. On the sidelines during pre-game I watched a very amped Tomlin getting ready. It was then that it dawned on me how personal this game was going to be, the teacher and his protégé. This is going to be good, I thought.
* As the Buccaneers took the field for pre-game … hmmm … or was it the Steelers? The roar from the crowd had to be for the home town team right? Welcome to South Pittsburgh with a Bay! Obviously well represented, Steelers Nation once again came out in full force and by the time the game ended had in its own unique way taken over Raymond James Stadium, turning the new Sombrero into a Heinz Field advantage.
* Charlie Batch looked as cool as a cucumber in the sweltering Florida sunshine. Until his pick on the first series, that is. That's when Charlie and Mike Wallace had a very animated and serious conversation on the sidelines. The best I could tell, as Mike and Charlie played high intensity "Charades" with each other, was there was a miscommunication on the drag route Mike ran, and I'm guessing it had to do with depth of the route.
* Troy Polamalu made another of his athletic plays/tackles in the second Tampa Bay series. Troy lined up over a slot receiver, followed the trace motion to the other side, and blitzed, beating the WR and the FB by splitting them and then corralling and turning the Cadillac into a Yugo. The Flying Monk has an uncanny knack for blowing up plays. Troy timed the snap perfectly, and left me speechless for the second time in two weeks. If this guy isn't up for the Defensive Player of the Year award…I…uh…hmm…I'm also written-word-less.
* I was particularly interested in watching "Bronko" Legursky take his first start. On my way up the plane steps before we departed the ‘Burgh, I said to the Big Legursk, "This could be a Wally Pip moment for you." Doug looks quizzically at me and then replied, "People have been saying that to me but until two days ago, I didn't know who Wally Pip was."
* Bucs DT Gerald McCoy certainly knew who big Doug was, because Doug drove the hard-charging 3-technique tackle up the field past Charlie when Batch let fly with the 46-yard strike to Wallace, who had managed to lose CB Aqib Talib when Talib bumped with Ronde Barber on the route. The Barber was trying to "shave" a step while jumping the route Hines Ward was running. Lynyrd Skynyrd might've needed "three steps towards the door" to outrun a hostile, but Wallace only needed one to torch a corner.
* Casey Hampton is a force in the middle, we all know that. He dominates in the phone-booth action like Troy does in the high plains. I can't remember when this took place, but I saw one of the most amazing feats of power from Big Snack. Hamp got the hamhocks churning when C Jeff Faine tried to reach block Casey only to be thrown on his head. I mean to say Faine did a ballistic headstand with the knees in tuck position momentarily (to facilitate a somewhat less traumatic crash landing I'm assuming). Faine did not stick the landing, he simply got stuck! Casey threw a 300-lb man like a shot-put. Try that one in your next touch football game.
* In the second quarter, Batch looked off SS Sean Jones and laid a beauty in to Heath Miller for a 22-yard gain. On the outside, Wallace had sped up the sideline and three Bucs moved toward him and freed Heath in the middle. You can't coach speed.
* The Turk up in the booth fairly howled "Is that Charlie Batch or Michael Vick?" when Charlie took off for the longest run of his career, a 24-yard gallop. Those 35-year-old legs were looking pretty fresh, as was the guy walking the sidelines, who got quite a bang out of watching that scamper.
* Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard TD run was all power, and mano-y-mano with SS Jones. Everybody else was blocked or not present for duty. From the end zone you could see the hole open up and the combatants arrive simultaneously in the hole. To the victor go the spoils, and when Rashard dropped the shoulder he was crowned with a six-pointer.
* You can't coach speed and Talib found out that he couldn't cover it either. Mike Wallace smoked him on the 41-yard TD catch that was so good the official in the corner of the end zone covering the play chest-high "fived" Mike on the down-low. I think the official was trying to hide it. When you impress the officials, you've done something special.
* No. 86 ended the first half scoring with a beautiful catch that was a cover-3, but when Barber cheated toward Wallace, Hines sat down in the window behind the Barber-less area in the zone coverage. As per custom, Ward bounced up and made a husband/wife duo wearing 86 jerseys very happy when he handed the ball over to them.
* Big o'l Max Starks came out of the halftime locker room and told me, "We got a streak we need to end!" Tampa had held their first two opponents scoreless in the second half. The streak was ended by Jeff Reed.
* I admit I was wrong when I first said that the Silverback would run through the "poof" playing left tackle for the Bucs. Poof is a term I use to describe a player that absorbs strikes rather than initiates them. Donald Penn played better than I expected. Still, Harrison drew a holding penalty when Penn went for the head-snap takedown. While getting bulled backward, Penn gave ground and attempted to pull James forward onto his face while James was off balance. Harrison stayed on his feet long enough to crash headlong into a throwing Josh Freeman. It's kind'a like a Matador "Ole-ing" a charging bull, but Penn got the flag.
* The scoring wasn't all offense as "The Deisel," Brett Keisel showed off the power of his Jeremiah Johnson beard with a 79-yard INT return off the pure effort of running to the ball. After the game, in the locker room, Brett could be heard harassing the Steelers RBs. He'd walk by and say, "What's the big deal with running the ball? I just waited for my blockers and made the cut! What's so hard about that?"
* Wallace later on our radio show offered to help Brett with his post-TD end zone dance. "I don't know what was up with that. He needs some help."