So just before kickoff, I decided to cruise down to the other side of the Steelers' bench to see what's happening. Just as I pass the area dominated by the "China Dolls," or wide receivers as we used to refer to them back in the day, I see No. 17 bent over behind the bench. Naturally I'm a little curious as to whether he's got a case of the nerves and is pulling an Ilkin by tossing his pre-game meal. Upon further review our man Mike Wallace is running some sort of vibrational "Gadgetrator" over his hammies. The gadgetrator looks like the alien space gun from one of my favorite Looney tunes cartoons featuring Daffy Duck. Seriously.
* In the Steelers' opening drive, around midfield, I'm watching Cincy DT Geno Atkins closely. He's a monster and whoever draws the assignment to block him has a long night coming. Atkins is on the Big Ragu, Ramon Foster. Atkins takes a hard swim move to the outside shoulder of Ragu and gets in the line of fire for a swing pass out to the flat. Ben Roethlisberger pulled off an unbelievable escape maneuver to get the ball to Antonio Brown for a 23-yard gain. Houdini couldn't have made a more spectacular escape and he sure couldn't have slung the pigskin like Ben. No matter how many times I've seen this and other "Great Escapes," Ben amazes me from ringside.
* Second quarter action has me popping Peanut M&M's like a teenager pops breath mints before his first kiss. The Bengals' pass rush is heating up and there were a few close calls. Mike Adams dropped back in pass pro around the eight-minute mark, locking horns with DE Robert Geathers. Geathers has a great bull rush and he's in full battle mode with it on this rush. Mike is in good shape, but as Geathers gathers himself on the re-load part of his rush (Geathers was stuffed, then flowed into the second part of his rush), he got Mike stumbling to the inside where Geathers slid off and got to Ben. With a little help from a fellow Bengalite hitting Ben's arm, the ball's out and it was a turnover.
*Question is: How does Adams respond? I've seen youngsters lose their confidence after a sack/fumble/lost ball and shell up like a spooked Armadillo.
* Willie Colon is having a GAME. Early in the first quarter, Big Nasty "Showed him the sky," as they used to say in India when a wrestler pinned another. Willie slammed Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfect to the ground and set the tone right then and there that this was not going to be a night of holding hands around the campfire singing Kumbaya. Now, later on in the second quarter, on a Jonathan Dwyer 1-yard run, Willie grinds out another pancake like he's slinging batter at a local IHOP. Bengals DT Domata Peko needs a little syrup though. I love this stuff.
* Following Heath Miller's TD, the Steelers lined up for a two-point conversion right before the half. Mike Tomlin didn't like the Cincy defense, so he signaled timeout. The officials didn't give it to Ben, so Ben proceeded to go with the huddle call. Mike went out almost to the numbers to signal timeout. Ben turned and screamed at Mike, but Tomlin couldn't get the full gist of what Ben was saying. Things got frantic until Ben took the snap and tossed it to Heath. Two points, what's the big deal?, I was thinking. Ben came to Mike T on the sidelines and Mike was a little hot. Whatever explanation Ben gave him placated Mike some, but not all.
* The Bengals took the ball on their opening drive of the third quarter. Six plays into the drive, the Bengals had run four times and passed twice. Ryan Clark had been moving up fast in run support, and I notice I was out of Peanut M&M's. In frustration I shouted "Watch the play-action!" only I'm not sure I yelled out loud or just in my head. Sure enough, Dalton threw a high, arcing ball to A.J. Green who's got Ike Taylor in trail. Out of nowhere, Keenan Lewis, playing a rolling coverage, got to the deep third and swatted the ball away. It was an awesome display of athleticism by Keenan. Afterward Keenan told me that he immediately recognized the route and formation from film study and got a jump on the ball.
* As I was hanging out behind the seated-on-the-bench hogs, Steelers trainer John Norwig came by and yelled at me to pull the plug on the heater that supplies the heat to the benches. The words of Chuck Noll came to mind: "The more you can do, the harder it is to cut you." I pulled that plug, baby.
* After the third quarter ended and the Steelers' offense was out on the field in their huddle, music featuring Freddie Mercury and Queen, "We will rock you," swept over the PA system. In a flash of air guitar mastery, Doug Legursky spun around in the huddle and began jamming and putting on stage moves like he was on stage with Queen. I howled. I mean, I busted a gut. That young man ain't all there, mind you, but he sure could play that air six string. And he is a very good player on the field as well. Don't quit that day job, Doug.
* Chris Rainey bolted through a hole that opened up like the Red Sea for an 11-yard TD on what we used to call a Counter Trap. Instead of the backside tackle pulling, though, Miller did the second-level cleanup. Colon pulled and kicked out the end man on the line, and Miller, running on the heels of Colon, turned up into the hole to get a linebacker. But if the kicking-out guard is stuffed in the hole, it would be like a car running out of gas going into the Fort Pitt tunnels at rush hour. Somebody's going to get a ballistic enema. I used to love running this play whether I was the pulling guard, or the turning-up tackle. Either way it was gonna be a big collision with somebody and somebody was going down. Me, them, both, you never knew.
* I think Roger Goodell's constant re-distribution of James Harrison's wealth has made James cautious. During the fourth quarter, Bengals WR Ryan Whalen ran a slant route which was broken up by Lewis from underneath coverage. James, playing inside zone, is on a Mohammad Massaquoi-type collision path with Whalen. When James saw the incomplete pass, he leapt into the air, spinning and twisting only to land heavily on his back. That had to hurt.
* Not only does he play a mean air guitar, Legursky is a tough guy, too. Late in the game, after a pass during which Doug got his ring finger hooked into an opponent's face mask (Gee, how'd that happen Doug?), he dislocated his finger, Legursky was in serious pain as he gripped his injured digit. Doug looked around, saw there was no one to help him, and simply bore down and yanked his finger out and set it back in place. Fortunately for Doug, and air guitar enthusiasts everywhere, it was his pick hand, so he can still jam.