View From The Sideline

Mike Tomlin asks the question, "Who likes January football?" Craig Wolfley of the Steelers Radio Network found several candidates on a field in Cleveland.

There's nothing like playing at Cleveland on the last day of the season in nasty weather to make a football year complete.

* While doing a pre-game hit from the radio booth at the stadium, I could look out to my right and see a huge wind-driven propeller outside of the stadium slowly turning as the wind blew. Leaning out of the booth to the left I could see the break-wall in the harbor where huge billowing waves of water blasted against the rock, exploding upward in a frothy cascade. Yeah, this is gonna be some fun.

* When Hines Ward went into motion and then dropped the opening pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the very first play from scrimmage for the Steelers, two things were apparent from the get-go. One, the Steelers were intent on getting Hines his 1,000 career receptions. And two, by the look on Mike Tomlin's face, as he slowly turned from the field of play to the replay on the Jumbotron, he has a low tolerance for chasing personal milestones.

* I made my way to the hog-pen (bench area where the O-Line sits) after Ahtyba Rubin came off Chris Kemoeatu to the inside and sacked Ben Roethlisberger. I always like to know, when possible, if it was a brain-fart, a schematic breakdown, or someone got whipped on a one-on-one pass pro situation.

* Sean Kugler is holding up the pre-snap photo of the defensive front on the Browns defense while the boys are assembled on the bench and looking intently at Big Juicy and Maurkice Pouncey. Without audio this can be tricky folks, but judging from the near whiplash head-jerk reaction to the call and the photo, I'm guessing Kemoeatu had one of them brain things.

* Rashard Mendenhall ripped into the open on a running play and then blew out his knee on the far side line. As Rashard slowly made his way across the field back to the Steelers sidelines there was some unsportsmanlike cheering coming from Browns fans accompanying Mendenhall's walk to the locker room. I'm assuming that the "Lust for vengeance" theme that was playing so heavily in Cleveland all week, for the James Harrison hit on Colt McCoy, had something to do with it.

* Pouncey got tangled up in a scrum and gingerly made his way back to the huddle. This was the first of what would prove to be several times I noticed Pouncey needing a hand in getting up after a play. Pouncey is nicked up, but grinding. It's that time of year.

* Troy Polamalu does some amazing things on the field. It's not just the plays he makes, but how he makes them. I had a ringside seat when Seneca Wallace dumped off a pass to an unknown Brownie receiver (the rain made note-taking impossible) early in the game and Troy jumped high over the receiver's shoulder to knock the pass down. Then he found himself riding the receiver like he was busting a bucking bronc at a rodeo. That was a pretty classy dismount by Troy, if you ask me.

* James Harrison is not often stuffed, but whenever he matches up with the great left tackle of the Browns, Joe Thomas, he has problems. On this second-half pass rush you could see what makes for a battle-royale whenever these two guys lock horns. Thomas has two things most other tackles in the league don't: He's a knee-bender, so he can lower his center, and he has great punching hands, so he doesn't get overextended by leaning forward and trying to head-butt Harrison. Most guys that James abuses are waist-benders. They are guys who straighten their legs and lean forward into a bull rush.

* The wind rises and falls all the time, making it hard to gauge it's strength. The net with which the kickers use to warm-up on the sidelines was blown over by a big gust of wind. Moments later, in a severe burst of wind and sleet/snow, what looked to be an unidentified Browns fan running on the field was nothing more than a de-person-less Browns poncho. At ease, James.

* There's Troy again, going in motion with the TE, then blowing through the line of scrimmage to tackle Wallace on a running play. Seriously, a tackle of the quarterback before he hands off? By a safety? That's urban legend.

* The Renegade video that's shown at Heinz Field could be made up of nothing more than a countdown of the top 10 plays of Troy's career. And that's with plenty of great plays not making the cut.

* The sidelines, otherwise known as "Mudville," exploded in cheers when Polamalu undercut an out pattern to snatch a Wallace pass that kick-started a six-play drive for a touchdown. I've run out of superlatives to describe this cat.

* Isaac Redman ran that counter-trap after the interception like a pro. Staying behind his blockers until the hole opened, he hit it at full speed with only one man between him and the goal line. That happened to be D'Qwell Jackson, the Browns' linebacker and leading tackler. Marlon Brando may have been the star in "A Streetcar Named Desire," but this "Freight Train Named Redman" planted Jackson and spun him around like a turnstile at the goal line.

* Ward caught his 1,000th career reception on a forward pitch we used to audible to as a "Brown 6" call. He netted a minus three yards for his trouble, but I have never seen Hines in all my years of covering his fan-tabulous career, cradle a ball so tightly to his chest as he trotted off the field. That smile was 1,000 watts of electricity.

* The first guy on the sidelines to greet him? Mike Tomlin.

* John Clay joined me on the field for a post-game interview for the Steelers Radio Network. With a smile that warmed the heart of a very cold and old man (me), John expressed the joy that only a recent promotion can bring when a young buck, working his butt off on the practice squad all season long, joins the guys for a "seat on the bus" (all the way to Cleveland, no less), then suddenly is thrust into the role of closer in the most difficult part of the game. There are few more rewarding moments than watching a newbie come through when he's called upon, especially when he's humble.

* As Tomlin greeted each member of the Steelers as they came off the field and moved into the locker room, he said, "Let's see who likes January football."


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