So I'm perusing the sidelines during pregame and I noticed a skinny guy with a couple of little ones and a wife. Bright red hair, he somehow looks familiar. Son of a gun, it's "Big Red," none other than the great Alan Faneca with his bride Julie hanging out on the sidelines with their two children. They're in town to support "Glimmer of Hope," a charity that supports breast cancer awareness. Alan has lost 80 or 90 pounds, looks great, and seems to be enjoying his downtime. Then I saw former long-snapper Mike Schneck, who's also taking in the ringside view and who also has lost a bunch of weight.
Hmmm, maybe at the age of 53 I shouldn't be at my playing weight.
* Going into the game I was very interested in how NT Chris Hoke was going to play the stretch. Last week he had success against Tennessee by "back-dooring" or splitting the center-backside guard gap and still getting to his gap assignment. Now I know that DL coach John Mitchell doesn't like that. Mitch wants his NTs to play to the play-side by fighting across the face of the center and staying square to the line of scrimmage. That can make a NT very susceptible to the dreaded chop block.
I didn't have to wait long to see my answer. On the first play from scrimmage, the Jacksonville Jaguars tried to run the stretch play and Hokie played across the face of the center and the backside guard tried to chop block him. Hokie stayed square to the line of scrimmage and the backside guard bounced off Chris when he tried to chop, all because Hokie kept his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. Hokie made a great play and held Maurice Jones-Drew to a 1-yard gain.
* On the fourth play from scrimmage, Jones-Drew slid into the flat for a swing pass. The ball was badly thrown by QB Blaine Gabbert, but looming in the background was LaMarr Woodley, closing fast on the distracted-by-the-bad-ball Jones-Drew. LaMarr had him lined up for a kill shot had the pass been on time and target. The play brought LaMarr close to the Steelers' sideline and I could see that Mike Tomlin had LaMarr's ear.
* Four plays later, Woodley smoked the Jaguars' OT and sacked Gabbert with authority. It was very similar to last week when Keith Butler was all over LaMarr, who then came back to sack the quarterback. This time I didn't think Tomlin was riding Woodley, but Coach Mike has the unique ability to "press the right buttons" of his players.
* Later on, the bearded one, Brett Keisel, ran a twist stunt and overpowered Jacksonville center Brad Meester. From groundhog level I had a perfect view of the Diesel getting the hamhock power in four-wheel drive and bull rushing in a powerful display of strength. He tossed aside Meester like a rag doll and sacked Gabbert. I'm thinking Brett's knee is feeling pretty good about now.
* Rashard Mendenhall, according to Steelers OG Ramon Foster, was oozing intensity before the game. Maybe sitting around for a week and hearing some of the comments coming his way had put a bug in him that only a big day was going to exterminate. Rashard took the handoff, ran to his right on the Pike play, and followed Trai Essex up into the hole on the right side. Big Trai bulldozed Paul Posluszny, flattening him like the proverbial pancake. "Rashard's the man!" as uttered last week by Steelers OC Bruce Arians, was ringing in my ears as Mendenhall raced 68 yards down the field. You know that run deserved a Jolly Rancher. Don't mind if I do …
* In the third quarter, two plays after Ryan Mundy got the punter, Woodley and Jags FB Greg Jones got into a tussle. I saw LaMarr after the game in the locker room, and said, "LaMarr! You know when they pull you gotta push and drop your hips! What's the matter with you?" LaMarrr, with a sheepish smile laughed and said, "I know. Casey said the same thing."
* A play before Gabbert threw a TD pass, on a first-and-10 from the Steelers' 16-yard line, Jaguars running back Deji Karim tried the right side and was stacked up by Steve McLendon holding the point of attack. And I was watching as Troy Polamalu closed from the backside with astonishing speed to drop Karim for a 2-yard loss. It's amazing, the knack of Troy, to time the count and guess the play with such precision and accuracy like he's in the Jaguars' huddle. If there was ever a candidate in the NFL to train under Obi Won Kenobi and master "The Force" as a Jedi Knight, it's Polamalu. It was a portent of things to come.
* Here it is, the play of the game. It's third-and-1 from the Jacksonville 30-yard line. The Steelers got a hot call on for Troy to drop down to the end of the line. Troy does that, and there's a Jaguars WR in the flex position to cut him off. It was one of the singularly weakest cutoff attempts I have ever seen in all my years in and around the NFL. The WR looked like he was playing two-handed touch and merely laying his hands on Polamalu. Just two hands alone won't get it, and Troy flew down the line of scrimmage to stick his head in front of Maurice about knee-level. Polamalu cartwheeled Jones-Drew into the stack of bodies that had amassed at the point of attack.
Troy took a knee immediately after the play was over and I could tell he was in a little trouble. The head-butt from Ryan Clark, when Troy got to his feet, probably didn't help but it didn't snap his head, so no damage done. I have seen guys in boxing go out on their feet only to be punched back into reality by the next howitzer that landed. Maybe Ryan helped re-boot the computer, who knows? Such is the business we're in. It's not a game for the faint of heart.
* Nobody played better on this day than the Beard with two feet, Brett Keisel. Two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed. Standing outside the locker room shaking the hands of every man in uniform, Tomlin shook the Diesel's hand, paused, and said, "Way to make the big play." Mike should've made it plural.