What a long, strange day-trip this was going to be, I thought, as I boarded the Steelers' charter to Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday morning. Though I had experienced a game day fly-in once in my 12 years as an NFL player as I languished in Minnesota at the end of my career, it was only a preseason game and made for a very long day. I remember the alarm that went through my mind as I yawned moments before kickoff. Feeling more like taking a snooze than head-butting somebody is no way to take the field.
* While the players headed off to the hotel for a pre-game meal after we landed, I along with the press corps and some players hopped a bus for MetLife stadium, arriving a good six hours or so before game time. I walked into the now quiet and unoccupied press box and headed down the long hallway towards the visiting team's radio booth. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the appearance of a very large German Shepherd, sans leash or handler, staring at me from twenty yards away like I was a T-bone steak on two feet. The dog looked at me, I looked at him, and neither one of us blinked, namely because I was so stunned by a face-to-face meeting with Cujo. Suddenly the dog's ears shot up like he was hearing something I wasn't and he reared around and sprinted off down the hallway, much to my relief. Moments later a friendly state trooper appeared and explained his pooch was a bomb-sniffing canine and was merely running through pre-game security procedures.
* Pre-game warmups came with a relieving sense of normality. I sat on the Steelers' bench, slightly miffed because there were no Peanut M&M's available on the flight to New York, watching as the players got the jet lag and naps out of their system. On all four of the jumbo video screens positioned in each corner of MetLife, Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" blared over the speaker system. I was informed that this was on Eli Manning's IPod. Thanks for sharing, Eli.
* Mike Adams has been coming on big time. But he still hasn't got the knack of cutting a guy. On the second play of the Steelers' first offensive series of the game, Mike tried to cut Justin Tuck on a screen pass, but Tuck played off Adams's cut block with his hands and leaped up to knock the pass down. In my mind I chanted…"Stare, stare, punch and cut."
* Halfway through the first quarter and it was obvious the Giants were going after Keenan Lewis. Keenan had already defended 3 passes and his continuing rise at corner speaks to the hard work Keenan puts in every day down at the Steelers' practice facility. When I talk to Keenan, I see the confidence growing in his eyes after every game. It takes a special breed of cat to play the corner, and a player's confidence can rise and fall like the stock market. Right now it's a bull market for Keenan.
* After a half-dozen Giants running plays, I wondered whether the defense had shaken out the flight yet. I watched Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison and Larry Foote and they weren't attacking the line of scrimmage in a downhill fashion as they usually do. They made a few tackles like they were standing curbside in San Francisco catching a moving trolley.
* Toward the end of the first quarter, Antonio Brown came up lame after a go route into double coverage. While he was on the table getting checked by the bone crackers, I ambled on by. They were checking out his ankle and whatever the diagnosis ended up being, you just knew it was gonna include pain.
* Part of the reason for the Steelers' offensive line resurgence has been Willie Colon settling in at guard. Learning to read flashpoints and have "Trapper's eyes," or the ability to read on the move and adjust to the whirling chaos of the point of attack takes time and many, many reps. Willie just trashed Justin Tuck on a trap. I think Willie is getting it.
* After Ryan Clark lit up Victor Cruz in the end zone and drew a flag, Dick LeBeau, Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin charged down the sideline almost to the 20-yard line yelling at the officials. They were hot, and rightfully so over the phantom "Helmet to helmet" penalty flag. Mike started yelling, "Get Bill over here! I want to talk to Bill!" If I'm referee Bill Leavy, I ain't coming.
* I got it from one of my birdies that the offending official who threw the flag said in the huddle-up with the coaches, "I may have missed it." Duh.
* After the blown tuck-rule call on Ben Roethlisberger's "fumble," the blown call on Clark, and what should have been a no-call on Lewis's pass interference, I finally agreed with a Leavy call. He just announced the two-minute warning.
* Just to be sure I looked at the scoreboard.
* Leonard Pope got the Hines Ward rule on the opening kickoff of the second half. You know, where you have to introduce yourself, show three forms of ID, announce your intentions and ask permission before you hit a guy. I think the official just threw it because he thought that Pope hit the other player too hard.
* Scary moment to end the third quarter: Chris Rainey was donked on a kickoff return, came over to the sidelines, and then collapsed to the turf on the field right in front of the bench. Chris was writhing so much and the doctors had such a look of concern on their faces that I was worried for a few moments that something major-bad was going on. After getting Chris to his feet and to the bench, I could see that it was something in the rib cage and I immediately understood. When you've got practically zero body fat and you bust up a rib, it's like every breath draws severe pain. My man Rainey needs to spend a little time at the "Buffeteria" to get a little fat-pad coverage for them ribs. Chunking out some rib cartilage is no small deal.
* Dink and Dunk offense eh? Dink a 7-yard crossing route to Mike Wallace and let him hit the afterburners for 51 yards and dunk it in the end zone. Works for me.
* In the fourth quarter, Tomlin went for a fake FG with the "Crazy-legs Canuck" Shaun Suisham carrying the mail. But it looks like they don't teach the stiff-arm to kickers in Canada.
* Right after the defense went three and out with the Giants, Tomlin met the defensive guys on the sideline. "Way to back me up, fellas," Mike bellowed.
* After Isaac Redman scored, the Steelers kicked off. Emmanuel Sanders got tied up on the kickoff with the Giants' backup center, No. 63 Jim Cordle. A flag was thrown next to where Cordle and Sanders crashed to the turf. Cordle got to his feet, saw the flag, and turned around protesting to Leavy, who was right in the middle of calling out the penalty and doing the hand motion for holding with his mike on. Cordle kept walking toward Leavy, palms out in a what'd-I-do-wrong? gesture. Just as Cordle got face to face with Leavy, Leavy said, "Holding, No. 39." Cordle lookeds down at his own number on his jersey, and then immediately spun on his heel and trotted off. Hilarious.