As we bused over to EverBank Stadium from the team hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the number of Steelers jerseys the tailgating fans were sporting. If the indicator of fan support at the stadium was anything like that of the parking lots along the way, the Steelers might well be playing a home game.
* One of the things I always look forward to when the Steelers travel is seeing friends, be it old teammates or guys that played in the league and later became friends. One of my favorites was former Steelers offensive lineman Tom Myslinski, otherwise known as “Mylo.”
Tom is the strength and conditioning coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and one of the best in the business. I had the pleasure of teaching Mylo’s older son how to box back in the day. He’s now a freshman at the Air Force Academy. It was enjoyable to catch up on life with him.
* New additions to EverBank Stadium are two upper deck pools in which fans can take a dip and cool off during the game while watching action from an end-zone perspective. Somehow I don’t see that playing in Pittsburgh.
* During warmups, Jaguars DT Roy Miller called all of his teammates into a massive huddle on the field and began screaming in a passionate all-in, “The losing streak stops here.” I don’t know the exact details, but I can tell you it was a fired-up Jacksonville bunch that took the field that came out fighting.
* A lot of people were saying this should be an easy game, but as my old teammate Ray Pinney used to say about our opponents, “Those guys are on scholarship, too.” In other words, there’s a reason those guys in the other uniform are playing in the NFL. They don’t just hand those jobs out. And there’s no lack of applicants for those jobs, either.
* Jaguars kicker, Josh Scobee, kicked off and I found myself watching Cody Wallace lining up and dropping back into what would have been a two-man wedge. Cody was on the 15-20 yard line standing upright watching the flight of the ball, almost relaxed even as Dri Archer took a knee. As a Jaguars player came screaming down the field covering the kickoff, Cody, ever the agitator, suddenly exploded into a “breakdown” posture as if he was going to block the sprinting Jaguars player. Much like having a buddy suddenly come up and fake a punch towards your midsection, causing you to flinch. Cody must have scared him. The smooth sprinting R-2 or R-3 man suddenly lost all coordination and nearly crashed and burned as he careened past the bemused Cody, who looked to be enjoying himself.
* File this under “Thanks but no thanks.” In the first quarter Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles sneaked a fourth-and-1 for a first down. After mashing into the line, Bortles got a little unexpected help. FB Will Ta’ufo’ou, all 250 pounds of him, saw Bortles struggling to grind out the first down and drilled the quarterback in the back to help him gain the necessary yardage for the first down. Bortles didn’t seem to be thanking his FB after the play was over.
* Do you think CBs respect speed? Archer lined up wide left as a receiver with an empty backfield set. Dri faked a step or two of a go route and then pulled up for a quick pass from Ben Roethlisberger. The cover corner, seeing Dri apparently launching full speed, turned and started to sprint towards his own end zone without looking back over his shoulder. After a half dozen or so full out strides, the corner looked back and noticed Dri standing at the line of scrimmage and catching the ball. The corner came back and made the tackle after a 7-8 yard gain, but 4.26 speed has to be scary if you’re out on the island.
* Can a kicker vapor lock? I didn’t know for sure but after the Kicking Canuck, Shaun Suisham, kicked off following a 24-yard field goal, then had to re-kick because of offsides, only to re-re-kick the re-kick because of another offsides (which turned out to be a bloop kick), I had to ask. In the line waiting to board the plane after the game I saw Shaun and asked. He just gave me that smile and offered that it was “a little tiring.”
* Someone who wasn’t tired after all those aborted kicks was Will Allen. Will and Jaguars linebacker J.T. Thomas got into a scrum on the bloop kick. Will got his helmet pulled off and went after Thomas with a vengeance. Cooler heads stepped in before Will got to Thomas (thankfully), because not having your lid on when engaging in pugilism can be a problem.
* I didn’t know the Steelers had “The Amazing Kreskin” as one of their team doctors. Doc Yates, standing alongside me on the sidelines, remarked that Cortez Allen was going to get an interception right before the play unfolded on the field. I mean right before the play. Too bad he didn’t have the same premonition in Dallas a couple years ago when Jason Witten, the Cowboy’s huge TE, creamed Doc on the sidelines while being tackled out of bounds. Had Doc had the “foresight” back then, he might have wanted to give himself a heads up.
* Speaking of Allen and his interception, that was a nice job on the pick. Cortez, in earlier games this year, seemed to be a little slow at times to transition from running with a receiver in man coverage to looking back to track the ball. Cortez didn’t have a problem whipping his head around and locking onto the ball this time. This is what the norm should look like for Cortez. He’s got that type of skill-set.
* Halftime brought out some skydivers from our nation’s military. Three paratroopers dropped into Everbank Stadium and I couldn’t help but reflect on my oldest son, Captain Kyle Jacob Wolfley of the 82nd Airborne. What makes these guys step out of a perfectly good airplane? Courage is an overused term today, but these guys are in a class by themselves. They aren’t sport jumpers; these are guys that jump into combat theaters risking their lives on the way down only to prepare to fight and risk still more on the ground. Try to wrap your head around that. These are surely incredible people in our nation’s Armed Forces.
* Funnier still was during the descent of the paratroopers, the kicking crew consisting of Suisham, Greg Warren and Brad Wing took to the field with several minutes remaining in halftime to warm-up, unaware that the skydivers were preparing to land. The Jacksonville mascot, standing out on the field, warned Shaun and the rest of the guys what was happening. Suisham looked at the mascot with the big Jaguars head and outfit and said, “Hey, you broke the mascot rules, you talked.”
* Doc Yates might have wanted to use those pre-cog skills he had flashed earlier to alert his compadre, Doc Bradley, another of the fine Steelers physicians crew, to get out of danger on the second-half kickoff. Bradley got “blown up,” as Bill Murray described Sergeant Hulka in “Stripes.” You have to watch those low-flying bodies that come whipping at you on the sidelines. “Keep your head on a swivel,” as we used to say on special teams. I, for one, am not gonna hang around those dudes on the sidelines anymore, they’re dangerous.
* Mike Tomlin used the term “Repeat offenders” to describe guys that take penalties over and over. Well from the looks of it, Lawrence Timmons is a repeat offender in a different way. I don’t know how anybody can puke that much on the field and still play. He did the same thing in Baltimore. Tough dude he is.
* In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger dropped back in the pocket, saw nothing he liked down field, felt some pressure, and decided to get outta Dodge. Ben was nailed as he scrambled and fumbled the ball. Now, here is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, someone who prides himself on delivering the goods when the pressure is on, yet when he had an opportunity to drive the stake into the heart of the Jaguars, he fumbled the ball away. A lot of people will de-personalize the play. They conveniently forget the human aspect of the moment, what it means to a guy like Ben to do something like that. Standing on the sidelines, as he walked toward Tomlin and the rest of his teammates, I could see in his face the disappointment, the pain and anguish, of not coming through. I’ve seen it in the faces of other greats – Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Dan Marino – as I crossed paths with them after such a moment on the field. It doesn’t happen often, otherwise they wouldn’t be all-time greats. But the personal angst over a poor play is just as true and probably more so for the big guys because of the high standard of play they expect from themselves.
* From gloom to boom in a heartbeat. Just two plays later, Brice McCain pick-sixed Bortles and everybody has forgotten the fumble. As Brice made his way to the overjoyed bench area, Ike Taylor was beating Brice over the head like Ike was trying to put out a fire. I was gratified to see it was Ike’s good hand he was slapping Brice upside the helmet with.
* On a wall left, which has the line taking the outside gap on a pass rush, The Big Ragu, Ramon Foster, watched over his linemate Kelvin Beachum, saw DE Chris Clemons getting into a good-sized bull rush on Beach. Just like a good teammate should, the Big Ragu came over and boned Clemons, splatting him to the ground. Now that’s pass pro the way it should be. We used to have a saying back in the day. You never leave your wingman.
* Big Ben lobbied for and threw Antonio Brown the ball to keep A.B.’s NFL record 5-catch and 50-yard minimum streak going at 21-games in the waning moments of the game. Doing something like that is special. It’s all about giving recognition and support to a guy who’s known for his tremendous production and work ethic. And people have a problem with that?