What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I sat down to chit-chat with Marvin Lewis before the game in Cincinnati and he looked wrung out. I mean he was all but done. I remember having a conversation with Tunch Ilkin about how Marvin, normally such an upbeat guy, was looking weary and under-inspired. But getting rid of all the "Coco Locos" has rejuvenated Marvin. He looks and sounds like the Marvin I remember and the results on the field speak for themselves.
* Ryan Clark buzzed by me on the field and I reflected on the past week and wondered what his mindset must be like after absorbing consecutive-week fines totaling $55,000. I remember how honked off I was over $400 fines for fighting and "entering the fighting zone."
* Without consciously realizing it, the steady, frenetic, thumping bass line of rap music blaring over the stadium PA system during pre-game warm-ups created a nervous tic response where I found myself throwing down Peanut M&M's like they were going out of style. With 30:00 still remaining before kickoff, I found myself at the bottom of my first bag and more sugared up than a 10-year-old at a sleepover.
* While I watched the Bengals' defensive line warming up, I spied Geno Atkins, the big Cincy DT taking on a double-team block, and watched as he dropped to one knee creating a logjam. When a guy does that it's extremely hard for the "Drive man" to get low enough to block his hip and dig him out of the hole. Now there's something for me to check out later in the game.
* Just before kickoff it's obvious somebody else got into too many M&M's. Maurkice Pouncey is bouncing around like he's on a pogo stick. Oh to have that kind of energy again. If you could collectively bottle the energy of all the players in the last few minutes before kickoff you could blast a rocket to Mars.
* On a third-and-10 from the Cincy 16-yard line, Big Ben spied the overload to his right, took the snap, pump faked Jonathan Fanene and an unknown Bengal into the air, scrambled forward and drilled a pass to Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone. Ben was happy, as evidenced by his "Curly Shuffle" and his "Moe, Larry the cheese!" circular run to celebrate. Nyuk, nyuk.
* It's plain to see. When the Steelers run the "Pike" play with Chris Kemoeatu pulling around the center and leading up into the hole, if it's Geno Atkins in the 3 technique, he's causing a pile-up by dropping to one knee and splitting the double-team. If it's Pat Sims, they move him out and gain some yardage.
* I could feel the crunch in my bones as Heath Miller caught a Ben fastball while taking a slobber-knocker of a hit from Reggie Nelson. Mike Tomlin immediately began barking and gesturing to the refs that Nelson had put some wood upside the head of Miller and a flag should be thrown. I happened to be standing right by Steelers head trainer John Norwig, who immediately began to move towards Heath the moment the wreck occurred. Heath got up as if nothing had happened and ‘Wig' relaxed. It'll be interesting, based on the Clark hit, what the NFL rules on this one.
* In the second quarter on a third-and-nine from the Cincy 47-yard line, Jason Worilds got his fandango on with a great pass rush on Andy Dalton as Bengals RB Brian Leonard tried to pick him up. Jason epitomized the "Dip and rip" technique by dropping the shoulder low and powering up through Leonard to spin him like a turnstile. The hit on Dalton caused an incompletion. This is exactly what you want to see from the young buck. The light has come on for Jason.
* It's the third quarter now, and first-and-goal from the Bengals' 9-yard line. The Steelers run their trap, pulling Big Juicy and Miller in tandem from the left side moving to the right. Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard rushes up to set the edge, and Chris K. steamrolls Howard like a cartoon character. Miller seals the inside and Rashard Mendenhall reminds everybody why he's "The Man" as he bulls his way into the end zone. I talked to Rashard after the game and he was glowing over that run, as well he should. Great job.
* Ooof! Somewhere in the fourth quarter James Farrior got lit up by Kyle Cook while tackling a Bengals runner downfield. Cook was what we used to call "Sherriffing the pile." Important FYI: Keep your head on a swivel and either light somebody up or get lit up; better to be proactive than reactive.
* William Gay played volleyball with Dalton's pass on a slant route. William got up in the air and tipped the ball to Lawrence Timmons, who made a great play, one of those splash plays that we've been expecting for a while. After getting up off the turf, Timmons ran towards the jubilant Steelers sidelines and proceeded to "okie-doke" rookie Cam Heyward on a flying butt bump. Timmons just smiled as Heyward sailed by after faking a jump.
* Gay closed the show on a "signature stop" as Coach Mike likes to call them by jumping a route on Dalton and intercepting the pass. I pressed William after the game in on on-field interview for the Steelers Radio Network as to what he was keying to snag the ball. He just smiled and patiently repeated, "I'm just doing what I'm taught to do." If you missed the great personal story on Will and what he's overcome in his life that ran in the Pittsburgh papers on Sunday you missed a story that needs to be known. Say what you want about Gay as a player, he's a tremendous young man and he's got a heart of gold.
* No trip to Cincinnati would be complete without pausing outside the player's tunnel on the field and looking to the upper stands where the famed "Esca-loser" was in action. All the forlorn Bengals fans with their slumped shoulders, head down, grousing over yet another Bengals loss while riding down the escalator. Yes, all's well in Steelers Nation after that view.
* I talked to Potsie in the post-game locker room about getting picked off the tackle by Bengals center Cook. "Yep he got me," said the smiling James Farrior after a quick grimace. "That's ok because I got his number." James continued, "I'll see him again."
* Yes indeed, in only a mere three weeks the Bengals have a return engagement in Pittsburgh.