Going back to Buffalo is a homecoming of sorts for me. I grew up 2.4 miles from "The Ralph" or what used to be Rich stadium in Orchard Park, NY. Now it's called Ralph Wilson stadium after the owner of the Buff Bills, as Myron Cope used to call them. And though the last time I was there as a player the fans doused me with spit, beer, boos and hand gestures, as Dorothy said to Toto in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home."
* Imagine my surprise when I stepped off the Steelers bus at the hotel the night before the game and one of the police officers who escorted the wagon train of buses said to me, "Hey, ain't you Sean Kugler?" Poor Sean. There's a reason I'm on radio, and not TV.
* The Steelers started and ended the game in similar fashion, kicking the daylights out of the Bills' front seven. What transpired in between gives pause for concern. I know a lot of people are ripping Chris Kemoeatu for the holding calls, four to be accurate. But frankly, since I've notched the same amount in a game against the Chiefs in the latter part of the 80's, I can't throw stones. You will have days on the job like this, and Mike Webster getting flagged four times in a game against Oakland in 1980 is proof that it can happen to the legends as well as us lesser mortals.
* That first drive was significant for the Steelers. I watched David Johnson finish a block to the whistle on one play, watched Chris Kemoeatu hit Paul Posluszny so hard it knocked him out of the hole like the proverbial "Eight ball, side pocket" shot in billiards. I watched as Flozell Adams passed a twist game so tight down to Ramon Foster that you couldn't wedge a piece of paper between them, and then stick a huge paw in the face of NT Kyle Williams as Williams rounded the corner. It literally brought Williams to a dead halt in rushing the passer, so powerful was the lockout Flozell had on Williams. Great first drive, now can they sustain it?
* Early in the first half, I watched as one of the sideline runners, gophers, as in "Go get this," wrapped towels around a hydroculator, or heating pad. Smoking hot, it was run over to Bryant McFadden, who was sitting on the bench. Bryant tucked it under his hamstring while resting in between series. Obviously Bryant was troubled by a sore hamstring, and in cold weather, like it was at the Ralph, it meant trouble. No surprise that Bryant didn't finish the game.
* If offensive coordinator Bruce Arians could pick his feet up like Rashard Mendenhall, the turf monster wouldn't have taken B.A. to the turf face first on the sideline, which is what happened. Meanwhile on the field of play, Rashard showed scintillating footwork to jump over Kyle Williams on a power lead, which showed why Mendenhall is ascending to the level of premier back. While Rashard deftly stepped over the prone Williams, he didn't hurry or panic. Rashard is displaying an ability to pick his way through ground clutter while maintaining balance and quickness. It's probably the most impressive trait I've seen from Rashard this year.
* Williams was the lone Buffalo defender who jumped off the tape as Tunch Ilkin and I watched in the week leading up to the game. He's a nice player, good motor and uses his hands well on the pass rush. But luck also plays into sacks as well as talent. On a quarterback draw, Ben took a shot-gun snap and paused in the pocket. Maurkice Pouncey threw the hard-charging Williams to the ground. Foster fell over the lower body of Williams, who, while on his knees, must have thought Christmas came early. Williams on all fours, looked up and Ben started to run while looking downfield. He didn't see Williams at his feet and Williams reached up and snipered Ben's leg, garnering a sack while looking like he was searching for lost contact lenses.
* C'mon, are you kidding me? That was the collective attitude from the sidelines as James Harrison knocked Ryan Fitzpatrick on his wallet. That might've been the fastest flag out of the pocket I've seen yet from an official. Wild Bill Hickock couldn't pull his six-shooter faster than the he pullted that flag from his belt. Mike Tomlin motioned for James to be cool, and James, to his credit, didn't flip out. How the NFL can keep watering down the game, flag James, and yet tell me that Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell went through that game without once holding Harrison is beyond my ability to reason.
* If there was ever a time to not take a penalty, Keyaron Fox whacking a Buffalo punt return blocker, who tried to decapitate Fox along the sidelines, was the time. Keyaron is a vet, he knows better. Sure, it is extremely hard to hold your water after somebody takes what you consider a cheap shot. But you simply cannot allow your emotions to control your actions. And for heaven's sake, don't retaliate in front of the entire Bills team on its sideline. Get his number and even the score later, nice and discreet, like in a pile-up for a fumble. You'd be amazed at what you can get away with there.
* Ooops, shouldn't have said that. Now the NFL will come out with a new "Pile-cam" to sheriff the piles.
* When Emmanuel Sanders dropped the ball on third down in the fourth quarter, there was nothing but "Green grass and high tides forever" between Sanders and the goal line. I could see the agony in Manny's face when he turned towards the sidelines before crumpling to his knees. And Sanders stayed down on his knees holding his head in his hands, face down to the ground well after the play was over. I thought to myself "Get up, Manny, never let 'em see you bleed." And you know Manny's frustration is going to draw the eye of Tomlin. Sure enough, Coach Mike came quickly down the sideline, saying "Don't do that Manny." This is where Mike is one of the NFL's best in coaching them up. He wanted Manny to shake off the dropped ball because Mike knows a young player will let that percolate and then possibly interfere with another opportunity later. One of the hardest parts of this job is shaking off a bad play, bad series, or a bad game. You cannot let that play, series, or game define who you are.
* Poor Byron Leftwich. As many times as he had to warm up on the sideline because Ben looked in trouble with the foot issue, he should get credit for plays towards his performance bonuses. Byron would get cozy, then Ben would get whacked, hobble a little, and the cape was off Byron's shoulders in a flash, only to shut it down and hood back up.
* Speaking of Ben, the 3rd and 17 run for a first down was as gutsy a play by Seven as I can remember. I know he was hurting, you could see he was in real discomfort. When the Doc and Ben disappeared into the locker room just before halftime, I figured Ben might be in for a little medicating. Don't know for sure. Back in the day we had a saying, "The needle is your friend."
* After the series that included the last of the holding calls, in which a Mendenhall 42-yard gain was wiped out, Flozell Adams turned around on the sideline and faced the bench. With clenched fists he stood like a titan from Greek mythology and bellowed, "No more _______ holding calls! Concentrate!" I thought for a moment that David Banner was about to break into the Hulk. Hmmm, come to think of it, he already is the Hulk. Big Flo was as angry as I've seen him, and there was a wide berth given to him by the players standing nearby.
* Nobody's mojo was bigger than Troy Polamalu's on this day. That INT with Will Gay tipping the ball electrified "Mudville" down on the sidelines, and only added to his legend. The people running the Jumbotron for the Bills replayed it over and over as if the picture would change and the ball would hit the turf. It didn't.
* Daniel Sepulveda stepped from the frying pan into the fire in OT when he had to save the day by punting with his heels 3" from the end zone line after Ben was sacked inside the 1-yard line. Job 1 for an offense backed up in the shadow of its own goal line is to at least get to the 5-yard line so the punter can get a full rip at the ball. Danny positioned himself with his left leg forward as if he had already taken his first step, and rocketed a 55-yarder on two steps. Keenan Lewis added to the net yardage by causing a fumble/free-for-all that helped save the day for the Steelers.
* Bills WR Steve Johnson might want to get a t-shirt that reads "Ok, now I'm serious" after dropping the Fitzpatrick flyer in the end zone. I, like everybody around me on the sidelines, thought the game was over. I think we can chalk this game up to, "Angels in the Astro-Turf."
* I was so disappointed. All day long I thought I was going to get a chance to see what color of "Tooke" Shaun Suisham wears. As a member of Canada in good standing, a card carrying Canuck, Sushi (the nickname given to Sean from the Heinz Field crowd vs. Oakland), like every Canadian, surely must have a tooke, or ski hat, to wear in cold climates. In West Virginia they call it a toboggan; Kentucky, just a ‘Boggan. Didn't see one displayed by Sean. But what I did see (5 for 5 in field goals, okay so one didn't count on the board, but you betcha it counted in his head) says this young man might have been through just enough tempering already to play an important role in the Steelers' success. Ya gott'a know what it's like to miss and make the big ones. It's all part of the magical mystery of mojo every ball player brings to work.
* After Leodis McKelvin ran up the back of Arthur Moats and tripped over his teammate's feet on the OT kickoff return, followed by Johnson's drop, I pictured my father-in-law Bill laughing and saying, "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then." Or two.