The Steelers' offensive line was once again in Chaos Mode as they dug in against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.
But that didn't faze Rashard Mendenhall.
"This happens a lot with us," said the man who rushed for 116 yards on only 18 carries. "We play musical chairs up front a lot of times. All of those guys are capable and they all prepared and we trust them."
Mike Tomlin trusts his reserve linemen enough that he refused to put up with a rookie who missed a team meeting earlier in the week. So he benched Gilbert and replaced him with Jonathan Scott.
Essex played so well he was awarded the game ball. Mendenhall played so well behind him that he had his first 100-yard game since Oct. 16 against Jacksonville.
Of course, it came at the expense of the worst rushing defense in the NFL.
"We watched film all week and saw these guys miss a lot of tackles," said Isaac Redman, who carried 8 times for 35 yards. "A lot of running backs have broken big runs on them so we knew we had a chance."
But then again …
"The game's not played on paper," said Mendenhall. "It comes down to execution and matchups."
And that's what sprung Mendenhall for a 52-yard run in the middle of the second quarter. Kemoeatu rolled around to block on the counter play into the right side. He blocked his man, Heath Miller blocked his, and Mendenhall was off and running for his biggest gain since a 68-yarder against Jacksonville.
"We got a hat on a hat and there was just enough room to make something happen," said Mendenhall, who was as complimentary of his offensive line as they were of him.
"Rashard came out with a fire in his eye," said right guard Ramon Foster. "He made it happen today."
Mendenhall entered the game with only one 100-yard performance this season, a season after he had hit the century mark four times in compiling 1,273 yards.
He came into the Rams game with 774 yards (3.8 avg.) and criticism of his play was mounting. Some even questioned his future with the team.
After raising his season total to 890 yards (4.0 avg.), Mendenhall was asked if he felt he needed a game like this one.
"Not exactly for me," he said. "For me every game is its own game. Every game is its own tale. So I just play that game."
Mendenhall's 35-yard catch and run was the key play on the Steelers' opening drive that ended in a field goal. And his 52-yard run to the St. Louis 10 set up John Clay's 10-yard touchdown run on the next play, Clay's very first appearance on an NFL field.
"You feel good for a guy like that, a guy who's put in the work," Mendenhall said of Clay. "For him to step in throughout this whole week of practice and not have any MEs [mental errors], made you realize that he's been working up to this point. It was good to see him get something out of that."
"At team meeting earlier in the week Rashard was telling me how impressed he was with the little things I was doing, like picking up the playbook and things like that," said Clay. "He said I'd get a chance today. I did, and I took advantage of it."