On such a somber day as this, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, standing on the sidelines in a pre-game ceremony memorializing those lost in the catastrophic attacks on the Twin Towers 10 years ago became an extraordinary inward journey. The gamut of emotions pouring out of the stands intermixing with those around me was both humbling and exhilarating all at once.
To watch as a mixture of 170 military, police, and first responders unfurled a gigantic flag on the field before 71, 434 fans that began chanting "USA, USA!" was overwhelming and a moment in time I will never forget.
As the chants and emotions flowed across the stadium my thoughts began to drift and coalesce into a prayer to God-Almighty and then to a military command-post thousands of miles away in Afghanistan where First Lieutenant and Rifle Platoon Squad Leader Kyle Jacob Wolfley, oldest son of my wife Faith and I, was watching the game with his soldiers. Suddenly football got small for a while.
* Job one when you enter the Lion's Den, as Mike Tomlin rightfully calls M&T Bank Stadium, is to take the crowd out of the game. You take the crowd out by controlling the ball, not giving up a big play, not turning the ball over. Don't take a sack and don't let them drop a seven on you.
* Well let's see, on the first play from scrimmage Ray Rice one-cut north and south for 36 yards and the "No Big Play" mantra was blown out of the water. As they did all day, the Ravens' O-Line zone-blocked with a scheme I've never seen from them. They simply went east-west, stayed on a track, and chop-blocked (defensive player is engaged with one player and another chops him from behind) NT Casey Hampton, and/or the backside 3-technique DE, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, or Ziggy Hood. This is illegal, yet superbly effective – if you can get away with it.
* After Anquan Boldin stiff-armed Bryant McFadden on the third play from scrimmage to create separation to the ball in the end zone for a 27-yard TD pass, the crowd exploded for the second time in three plays and from the sidelines you could feel a shift that in thinking, as in "This is gonna be a long day, especially since I've already crushed my one bag of Peanut M&Ms."
* Around 21 plays or so from scrimmage into the first quarter, Terrell Suggs got the first of his three sacks on a twist which eclipsed the "No sack, no turnovers" mantra of crowd control. Haloti Ngata then jumped on the loose ball and the resulting explosion of crowd noise was deafening. Ngata was the disruptor in the gap that ate up two hogs to allow Suggs to come underneath and get home.
* On the next play: Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta for 29 yards, feeding the now frenzied atmosphere of M&T Bank, and the Ravens were in the beginning stages of body-bagging the Steelers such as I haven't seen in a long, long time.
* Rice again one-cut his way to the end zone, but fumbled and a very demonstrative Hampton emphatically gestured that not only was Rice down from a knee touch short of the goal line, but the chop blocks were also taking a toll.
* When Rice went rice-a-roni for a 1-yard TD run, the look on a number of the player's faces as they came off the field told the story. It was pure shock, and I wasn't sure anybody had an answer for what was transpiring. I've seen that look before; I've worn that look before. I had a sneaking suspicion that the game within the game was writing a storyline that had the Ravens running away with the game as the first quarter ended.
* That sneaking suspicion lifted a little as Ben Roethlisberger rolled to his left, eyeballed Heath Miller in the short flat so hard he drew Ravens like carrion to road-kill, then Roethlisberger shifted gears and fired a shot to Emmanuel Sanders in the back of the end zone.
* I'd watched film of the Ravens in preseason, and in the all important third pre-season game Flacco couldn't hit the broad side of a check-down barn. But on Sunday he hit Rice on a circle route out of the backfield for 25 yards of open field. Flacco was unflappable on this day, and my gullet began to churn yet again.
* I've heard a lot of fans complain that the Ravens ran up the score, 29-7, when holder Sam Koch converted a two-point conversion in the third quarter. No way. In a bare-knuckle brawl like this, when you have the opponent down, you put the boots to them. Law of the jungle, man.
* When Ed Reed intercepted Roethlisberer on a shovel-pitch/pass option intended for Miller the play got kaiboshed when a.) Jarret Johnson unloaded on Hines Ward coming underneath for the pitch, and b.) Ngata put the theme music from Jaws in the head of Ben while thundering after him and causing him to throw without planting his feet. If Roethlisberger had the time to plant and throw, it's six points. Instead Ben couldn't get enough on the ball and it floated.
* I'm watching ginormous OT Bryant McKinney in the huddle in the second half and he's sucking so much wind that Rice is in danger of being inhaled. Yet, to his credit, the big man played the whole game.
* That was a nasty brawl at the end of the third quarter to be sure. When the ref was banged and hit the deck, I was reminded of old-time NWA wrestling villain "Classy" Freddie Blassie taking a misfired Dominic Denucci coco butt during a free-for-all and getting proned-out in the ring.
* After the Ravens made it 35-7, the Steelers went out for the kickoff return as the offensive line congregated on the sideline. Tomlin gave them a talk that I didn't hear, but have heard in another time, another place from another man under the same conditions. I would imagine it went something like this:
"Finish strong, finish hard. Don't give the sons of guns the satisfaction of seeing you bleed. Seven (Roethlisberger) is back there, anything goes men."
* I've heard fans saying that Tomlin should've pulled Roethlisberger. Not on your life. There's no tapping out. You win together, you lose together and you fight to the bitter end. The human element extends beyond the playing field. Pulling Roethlisberger would only have emboldened the Ravens.
* Besides, there's magic in taking the trash-talking, the physical lumps, and the disdain of the fans like a man, and as a unit and team, that creates bonds which are formed under adversity and hardened through duress. You learn a little about yourself and the man next to you. No man is born with true grit. It's something you develop.