From The Notebook Of A Sportswriter ...

Jim Wexell with his notebook full of observations following the Steelers' 37-19 win in Carolina.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who enjoyed, for a change, watching the other team's quarterback play as if his eggs were scrambled:

* No one doubts Ben Roethlisberger played a lousy game the previous week because of the vicious hit from Ravens pass-rusher Courtney Upshaw. But no one would have expected Cam Newton to play the same way last night, and for the same reason.

* Steve McLendon not only can take a bow for helping force Newton out and ushering Derek Anderson in, but McLendon can stand up and shout, "I am not Cam Thomas."

* It's what so many fans and media have been calling him up until last night.

* Although, Thomas played pretty well last night, too.

* Careful. Saying a lineman played well after only one viewing of tape is like saying the girl across the bar is kind of cute after 12 viewings of scotch rocks.

* Some of the pictures still stood out to me from that lone viewing. The main one is Ike Taylor standing gloomily on the sideline with his right arm in a sling and what appeared to be a cast.

* I noticed in the pre-game introductions that Taylor -- for the first time I could remember -- gave his school name, Louisiana Lafayette, instead of the usual, "Swaggin." I wondered at the time if that was a bit of a shout-out to his former teammate there, cornerback Charles Tillman, who has shared so many similarities with Taylor over their 12 years in the league, and whose career probably came to an end last week with an injury to his right arm.

* Both players are in the final years of their contracts. Tillman likely won't return to the Bears, who drafted Kyle Fuller to replace him. The Steelers have no such replacement in the pipeline for Taylor.

* Of course, the other guy I wanted in the draft, aside from Fuller, was gargantuan wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He was really the only true threat for the Panthers last night, and mainly because he doesn't play like a tall receiver. He's much more agile than guys his size.

* It was driven home to me that the Steelers missed a great chance to add the rare combination of down-the-field presence and red-zone threat not only when they were having trouble in the red zone, but when Ryan Shazier left the game with an injury and was replaced by the better-tackling Sean Spence.

* Benjamin was clearly the more fearsome presence on the field last night.

* Of course, Benjamin's game was picked apart not just by Steelers scouts but by NFL draft media. I, of course, succumbed to the negative press and lowered my grade on the big man from Florida State.

* Note to self: Stop succumbing.

* I'm not down on Shazier, but I do believe he'll miss the opportunity to develop more than the Steelers will miss him developing at the expense of their opportunities.

* If that makes any sense.

* Even the best inside linebackers can become inconsequential at times. Ask Luke Kuechly.

* It was obvious the Steelers put plenty of emphasis on Kuechly, from Le'Veon Bell's patient pick-and-run style of carrying the ball to the different linemen who came at Kuechly from different angles all night long.

* The interior linemen were naturally focused on Kuechly, but check out the block by left tackle Kelvin Beachum, on Kuechly, to open up LeGarrette Blount's 51-yard run.

* I should've written something like "sparked Blount," or "lit up Blount," for more hilarity.

* All of the pot-smoking double entendres combined still can't displace "The Doobie Brothers" as the best description for the two knuckleheaded running backs.

* It's all fun after a game in which they both rushed for over 100 yards.

* I will say that Blount brought Jerome Bettis to mind the way Blount closed out last night's game. Maybe not so much in style -- although both are and were powerful runners -- but in job description.

* The line deserves the bulk of the credit, and not just because of its run-blocking. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert had the most difficult job of the night in blocking pass-rusher Charles Johnson.

* The response of "Charles who?" would pretty much sum up Gilbert's game.

* But the play of the line just brought to mind another image from earlier in the week, the one about which I wrote on Monday after watching line coach Mike Munchak gather his starters around him as he talked to them for a good 10 minutes straight. Those boys are responding.

* The only negative moment for the line, beyond the usual nit-picking, was the personal foul committed by David DeCastro right in the middle of multiple officials. It cost the Steelers a chance for a touchdown late in the first half.

* But the fact of the matter is that DeCastro pushed Kuechly, who was knee-kicking Justin Brown in the back as Brown lay on the ground. DeCastro was standing up for a teammate.

* So even when the line was wrong, on this night it was right.

* "That offensive line looked like it did in its Super Bowl years," said TV analyst Tony Dungy after the game. Let's just hope he meant "Super Bowl year," as in the 2005 championship season. The OL's rebuilding phase was still deep and dark throughout the 2008 season.

* Cameron Heyward played his best game of this young season last night. He was reading screens, stopping the run, and drawing holding penalties. His sack of Newton in the second quarter was negated by offsetting penalties. And Heyward even lined up on the nose and beat Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to rock Newton on a third-and-7 incompletion.

* After Heyward applied the pressure that forced Newton to throw incomplete on another third down with 10 minutes left in the game, one of the broadcasters said, "It's been a long night for Cam." And I thought, "You mean, it's been a great night for Cam." Then I realized they were talking about the other Cam.

* Oh, wait, Other Cam was playing left defensive end on that snap.

* I think Abbott and Costello could do something with this.

* Every week it's something else from the officials. Last night, Markus Wheaton had a touchdown taken from him because he apparently stepped out of bounds and didn't re-establish position to catch the apparent scoring pass. My questions to online officiating expert Mike Periera were: Wasn't he pushed out of bounds? Why wasn't the push out of bounds ruled illegal contact? Didn't he re-establish himself upon re-entry? And isn't this challenge-able? Periera didn't answer any of them, just tweeted that the call should've been illegal touch, which is a five-yard penalty and down over. The Steelers didn't even get that as they settled for a field goal.

* That catch of that back-shoulder bullet, that was the catch Emmanuel Sanders couldn't make last year on a two-point conversion attempt with a minute left in what would be a two-point loss to the Ravens.

* Anyway, last night's call was made by the official who was NOT staring down at the sideline and Wheaton's feet the instant before he threw his hands up in the air to signal touchdown.

* Hey, c'mon, I have to complain about something.

* Penalties. There's another complaint. You know you're off to a bad start in that department when you have 12 men in the huddle for your second snap of the game.

* There were other negatives, but there always will be.

* Someone pointed to the disastrous outcome the previous week and asked me why I was predicting a Steelers win at Carolina against a defense that was better than Baltimore's. I answered that responding to embarrassment, with a few extra days of preparation, is a great motivator for a team with the better quarterback and playmakers.

* I know the quarterback for Tampa Bay won't be nearly as good as Roethlisberger this coming Sunday, but no team has been embarrassed more this season -- and in particular last Thursday -- than the Bucs.

* The Steelers will need more from their crowd on Sunday than that crowd will have reason to expect.

* And I never like that dynamic.


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