View From Sideline

Craig Wolfley is the sideline reporter for the Steelers Radio Network on Sundays. On Tuesdays, he's a columnist for SteelCityInsider.net. Here's his report from up close:

There can be no greater joy for a sideline guy like myself to come to work with the temperatures in December edging into the upper 60s. What could've been or should've been, temperature-wise, didn't match the "what was" on the field. Simply put, "what" happened on the field performance-wise by the Steelers and the weather "was" outstanding.

* Things are looking up already. Maurkice Pouncey has his bounce back. During warm-ups, the now familiar up-and-down pogo stick bouncing of Pouncey had returned, which was missing last week. Maurkice will bounce like "Tigger" of Winnie the Pooh fame during the pre-game period. Oh, to have that much energy again.

* We know the story of Maurkice in Kansas City, how Pouncey cowboyed up and tried to play despite throwing up all over the place. I can vouch for his toughness, as Pounce was in some serious pain in KC. I saw him last week at halftime, stretched out on the floor with Doc Yates administering an IV as he writhed with stomach cramps. Those of us in the media saw the young buck mid-week when he looked like death warmed over at the Steelers' facility. And believe it or not he was on the mend at the time. Well, he was back with a vengeance on this day, and with vengeance he performed.

* I saw a fan dressed in the familiar number of No. 58, Jack Lambert. This guy stood ringside on the field during warm-ups and he had the jersey, shoulder pads, forearm pads and the neck roll to fill out the Lambert look perfectly. The only thing missing was the customary cigarette Jack used to smoke both pre-game and at halftime.

* Somehow the Frisbee dogs don't seem out of place on this gorgeous day. By my count the first dog up caught 7 out of 10, but was so exhausted on the last toss by his handler that he pulled a Duane Bowe a la the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver, and didn't even bother to raise his snout for the last one. Pitiful effort.

* I've always believed that 3-6 plays alter the course of a game, and on the Bengals' first drive that proved to be true. I also believe that one of the hardest lessons to learn for a young player is to turn the page on a play, good, bad or indifferent, and put it in your rearview mirror. It is easier said than done.

* Rookie WR A.J. Green got tangled up in the end zone in a little dust up with Ike Taylor, resulting in off-setting personal fouls. Ike was getting into the rookie's head early. Ike shut down Green on a pass two plays later. I think Green was still steaming over the personal fouls in the end zone. And his mind was elsewhere for the moment. On the very next play Andy Dalton threw a TD pass to TE Jermaine Gresham, but Green was called for a false start, nullifying the TD. You can't dwell on the past, only the present. Instead of being up 7-0, the Bengals had a FG attempt blocked and came away with nothing. The course of the game had been altered.

* Cincinnati went to an unbalanced line later in the first quarter. They moved RT Andre Smith to the left side, next to LT Andrew Whitworth. They brought in OT Dennis Roland to replace Smith on the right side. All they were doing was trying to overload a side to create blocking angles, and then they ran to the weak side (the right side). The Diesel, Brett Keisel, punched Smith in the chest so hard he bounced the 300-plus pound big'un back, allowing Brett to chase down Ced Benson from behind for a short gain. That's an outstanding display of handwork by Keisel, an often unappreciated aspect of defensive line play.

* Whoops. I just happened by LaMarr Woodley standing on the sideline next to Steelers trainer John Norwig. LaMarr came out of the game for the last two plays of the series, and he's doing the "Heel drag" test for ‘Wig. When you see an athlete planting his heel on the ground and dragging it towards him, he's checking to see if he's got some serious pain in his hamstring. It looked like operation shutdown for Woodley.

* You gotta be kidding me. Ziggy Hood just dropped Dalton on a third-and-10 on a scramble after a short gain. Then he got up and did, believe it or not, the Pee Wee Herman "Big Shoe Dance." I had a pretty good laugh after that one; almost snorted my Jolly Roger.

* On Rashard Mendenhall's second TD run of the day, what we used to call a "Toss 28 Hook," featured a crackback block by a WR and had big ol' Marcus Gilbert pulling to lead in front of Mendenhall. All was well except for the fact that Marcus was "Cadillac-ing," or not running quite as hard as he should. Thus, Rashard got out in front of him and then cut it back as only Rashard can do. That was a great example of cutback eyes exhibited by Mendenhall to find greener pastures.

* When Mike Wallace caught his first TD pass of the game, the bait was set much earlier. The Steelers had good success running the counter-lead and trap. So Ben Roethlisberger went play-action, the Bengals' front seven took the bait, and got sucked up into the line because of the Steelers pounding the rock. Then Ben found Wallace with no underneath coverage because they were looking for the run.

* There is no way Hines Ward will part with this ball! Hines caught the football that put him over 12,000 career yards receiving. It'll be on the fireplace mantle in time for Christmas.

* Referee Carl Cheffers, on the field signaling a penalty on Will Allen, in the course of his hand movements clunked Antonio Brown, who just happened to be walking by, right in the gourd. Forgetting that his mike was still on, Cheffers inadvertently said "Sorry, brother." That drew a few chuckles on the sidelines.

* Shaun Suisham missed a 50-yard FG attempt in the fourth quarter and I wouldn't blame him if he was distracted by Steelers TE David Johnson trotting on the field late to take his wingback position. A penalty for an illegal shift followed and the Bengals declined. It was first-and-10 going the other way. I tell you, if looks could kill, Johnson would not have survived this game when he walked past Mike Tomlin. More to the point, if the Bengals had overloaded the side that was without Johnson, they easily could have blocked the kick and maybe taken it back for six.

* Late in the game, I saw an upset Pouncey sitting on the bench. They had pulled him and moved the Big Legursky to center. Pouncey was obviously upset, and Willie Colon sat down with him to help him cool his jets a little. Then Tomlin headed over to talk some sense into the youngster. Save your juice, Maurkice. Cleveland is up in about four minutes.

* Antonio Brown took a gi-normous hit on a pass reception. He was crushed. But the seriousness of the moment came after he frantically rebounded from the catch and pulled up his jersey. What? After a couple of scary moments he regained his breath, and as NFL humor goes, got a little heckling from his teammates who joyously re-enacted the moment by jumping up and pulling up their jerseys showing their mid-sections to gales of laughter. (Understandably no hogs participated in this.)

* Mucho smiles all the way around abounded in the locker room with the overt feeling that this was the most complete team effort of the season thus far. The guys were feeling their mojo, and the beginning of the end was in sight.


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