View From Sideline

Craig Wolfley of the Steeles Radio Network strolled the sidelines of the Patriots-Steelers game and explained why it felt like the playoffs.

It was a cold day at Heinz Field. Well, check that, it was a little colder than I had anticipated. I didn't dress properly which made for more episodes at the turbine heater. I could probably write a book on "turbine heater mishaps." But what was occurring out on the field of play was no mishap, simply the best example of make-a-game-plan, work-the-game-plan and stay-with-the-game-plan I've seen in a big game in an awful long time.

* As I huddled with the hogs at the 35-yard line pre-kickoff, Heath Miller, ever the quiet one, began banging on the shoulders of each of the offensive linemen prior to heading out on the field. That was tantamount to Heath getting up and delivering a pre-game speech Knute Rockne would have been proud of. I thought Heath might've over-caffeinated. It was merely a portent of things to come.

* With Hines Ward on the mend with an ankle injury, Ben hooked up with Miller four times for 55 yards on the opening drive. A lot of those passes would normally go Hines' way on the inside, but Miller was mojinated and he played with his typical precise delivery of skillful pass-catching whenever called upon. OK, to "Out-Brady the Brady" as the Turk up in the booth had been calling for all week long, coaching tip number one was to go to the TE, and not the Rob Gronkowski, but Miller.

* On the Patriots' first rushing attempt of the game Casey Hampton blew up, and I mean blew up Pats center Dan Connolly to crush BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a yard loss. Connolly tried to reach block Casey but with an explosion of power Hampton blew through the outside shoulder. Hamp was obviously feeling good, and in my mind I smirked, "Doesn't look too old and slow to me."

* Dick LaBeau is always low-keyed. Normally Coach LeBeau hangs right on the sidelines with occasional trips to the defensive end of the bench to converse with his troops. This is probably the second or third time he's cruised down to the offensive end of Mudville in the first quarter, head down while slowly walking obviously immersed deep in thought. The man doesn't even carry a check list that I can see for his play calling. It's all in his gourd. I'd love to know his thought process as he strolls around. This is what happens when your defense is playing out of its mind and gives Tom Brady just three snaps in the first quarter. Think I'll just leave him alone.

* I don't know when this happened, but that sprint right, throwback left bubble screen to Antonio Brown was a thing of beauty from the end zone view that I had behind the play. Normally when you go throwback screen, it's to the TE, but Miller led the charge in getting a block down the field as Antonio set up at the line of scrimmage. And the Patriots' defense rolled to their left as Big Ben sprinted to set up to his right. This is a wrinkle that I don't believe I've seen all year. Bruce Arians was on top of his game to be sure.

* Pittsburgh is up 10-0 in the second quarter. Ben had been on schedule with the ball on pass plays throughout most the first half of the game. I've always been a proponent of Big Ben being Big Ben, but after listening to Tunch all week talking about how this game was a game of delivering the ball on time and he should leave the "extend-the-play-with-the-legs" for another game, I agreed that it was time to out-Brady the Brady by staying tight with the delivery on every ball thrown and leave the gunslinger at home. This had produced an offensive juggernaut that had the Patriots' defense looking like the Steelers defense of a year ago. And on the sidelines there was almost a feeling of giddiness.

* When Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton stepped in front of a Ben-to-Emmanuel Sanders pass for an interception it took the giddiness right out of the entire Steelers sidelines. The Tom Brady TD pass was almost a gimme.

* This is where I thought the game could be won or lost. There was a darkening of mood in Mudville that you had to be there to feel. Ben had played terrific, as had the entire team, and then to have an errant pass let the Pats back into the game gave a gullet feeling that it was just a matter of time before Brady became Tom Terrific yet again.

* That's when Ben hooked up on what we used to call a "135-trap pass" to Sanders for 26 yards following the Patriots kickoff after they had closed to 10-7. That's when the incredulous feeling that Ben was having a Big Ben day returned.

* Halftime was a special time. The Steelers honored the 80's by bringing in a host of guys with whom I played. From Bubby Brister to Brian Blankenship (now I could tell some stories here…) to Warren Williams. So many guys I love like family brought back great memories, along with their families. Getting old is not for the faint of heart.

* Uh oh, LaMarr Woodley just collapsed on the field while running in space, with no one near him. Now, after he reached the sideline, I saw him doing a heel-drag test on the ground. That could only mean a blown hammie.

* On third-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 7-yard line, Chris Carter, playing for Woodley, jumped offside. Oh, sheez-Louise, linebackers coach Keith Butler went ballistic. I'm not kidding you when I say Keith was hot. Poor Chris got the full fury of Butler when he hit the sidelines. As I watched, I drifted off to another time, another place. I was Chris Carter; Keith Butler was my offensive line coach Rollie Dotsch. Same speech though.

* In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw a "Now" (soft CB coverage) pass out to the left to Brown on a second-and-1situation. I just happened to be right there when Patrick Chung came up hard and tackled Brown while grabbing the face mask. It was near where the Steelers coaches were standing. The second we all spied the face mask the coaches, led by Mike Tomlin, came charging down the sideline screaming "FACE MASK, FACE MASK!" I almost got run over by the whole crew.

* Brett Keisel sealed the deal with a great rush off the left side when he had been on the right side all game long. Just a clutch play that had the entire sidelines explode when the ball came out and Troy Polamalu punched it forward into the end zone. Ziggy Hood was only momentarily chagrined when they ruled a safety rather than a TD. This had a championship game feel on the sidelines.

* I've been on plenty of post-game fields where the Steelers had gotten a big win. AFC Championships games, Super Bowls, you name it. This game definitely had a post-season flavor to it. As I looked around players were hugging players, coaches were hugging coaches, players began hugging coaches, sidelines guys, ball boys, it was a hug-fer-all on the sidelines. Don't tell me this was just another game. Slaying the dragon called Tom Brady was a big to-doings, you betcha.

* William Gay waited patiently on the field for the wrap-up radio interview I asked him to do with me for the Steelers Radio Network. After listening to the 60-second countdown, on the go from producer Eric Taylor, my stupid microphone went dead. I couldn't have planned this, so precise was the timing.

* As I made my way slowly up the stairs after the game toward the Steelers locker room deep in the recesses of Heinz Field, the bearded one, Brett Keisel passed me by. I said "Hey Diesel, great job on that sack-strip at the end on Brady!" He slowed, turned enough to reply, "Fear the beard, Wolf," and moved on. Fitting, I thought.


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