I believe I played in Cleveland about 12 times, maybe 13. I can only remember one, maybe two sunny game days at the most. So I must admit that I enjoyed taking the sidelines at Cleveland Browns Stadium on a fabulously sunny day with just enough of a wind chill to make it interesting. This has to be the first time in years that I haven’t had to “Eskimo up” and dress like Nanook of the North reporting from Ice Station Zebra.
* Pre-game is always interesting, whether, as on this occasion, it was a momentary reflection with Joey Porter and his fight pre-game with William Green, or the Army soldier in full dress camouflage uniform who, while waiting on the field for the National Anthem, looked up, saw a warm-up punt from Brad Wing screaming towards him, and fair caught the punt, complete with a legal, easily discernible fair catch signal. Nice job.
* I knew it was going to get a little bumpy when the Steelers were in the “Dawg Pound” end of the field and Le'Veon Bell lost yardage on a pitch from Ben. Heath Miller and the other guys were going to have to contend with a revamped, bawdy, rowdy and increasingly antagonistic Dawg Pound that got louder as the game went on. Late off the ball means the defensive players have the edge, and on this play lateness meant a loss of yardage.
* In the first quarter, Antonio Brown, engaged in another 5-star epic battle with Cleveland’s CB Joe Haden, streaked by me on the sidelines on a go route. AB was clearly being held by Haden, even though Haden was attempting a sleight-of-hand by pulling on AB’s jersey from a trail position just above AB’s waist. Haden was hoping that the lowness of his hand positioning, along with his body in relation to the refs would shield him from penalty. It didn’t. Out came the flag and down poured the boos. The partisan crowd went bonkers until a replay, which I was surprised that they showed, quieted the crowd as the offending jersey pull was clearly displayed on Cleveland’s brand spanking new twin Jumbotrons.
* A few plays later, AB swung around on a reverse and found himself being tracked and closed upon by safety Donte Whitner. AB drilled Whitner right in the grill with a stiff-arm. I mean like a pogo stick to Whitner facemask. AB wound up going out of bounds but Whitner looked like a Pez dispenser when his head got snapped backwards.
* Cameron Heyward keeps impressing me with his desire to be great. He’s a guy that took awhile to come along, but he’s been worth the wait. Cam got a great push going on a Brian Hoyer pass, and simply overwhelmed one of the Browns offensive linemen with a great lockout arm and bull rush. When a defensive lineman can get that lockout, the offensive lineman has to knock that arm down or the power and leverage coming from the lockout will ride you right back into the quarterback’s lap, as it did on this occasion. Sack, Cam Heyward.
* The power of Mojo is a funny thing. Everything looked good for the Steelers up and until Brad Wing had trouble putting the snap down. Cleveland was doing the three-and-out stuff when they came to life by running a bootleg throwback across the field to a wid- open TE Jordan Cameron. The 36-year-old Brett Keisel running Cameron down from behind was one of the best hustle plays I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brett someday doing an Old Spice commercial of him hunting bears with a switch. The guy has been a terrific player, leader and teammate over the years.
* Some unnoticed holding came and went as Browns TE Gary Barnidge practically tackled Lawrence Timmons on Isaiah Crowell’s 5-yard touchdown run while pressing the play-side on a zone stretch. LT was in perfect shape shadowing Crowell from his scrape position until Barnidge grabbed hold of LT like he was square dancing with him. That was one ballistic Dosey Doe. Barnidge has that whole “Swing your partner round and round” thing down pat.
* I wonder if Lev Bell found out that Browns Linebacker Karlos Dansby still has the Super Bowl 43 loss etched in his brain. Dansby talked about how he’s still honked off over the Steelers whipping the Cardinals when he was with Arizona in the week’s run up to this game and I was wondering if, as they were both jawing face-to-face after Dansby tackled Bell, the subject happened to come up.
* Sooner or later every streak comes to an end. When Crowell mashed into the line on a run play, he got bent awkwardly and I thought he might be injured. Then Crowell immediately got up and signaled for the trainers and doctors on the Browns sidelines to come onto the field with an urgency that always makes my stomach tighten. Having seen a lot of uncomfortable moments on the field as a player and now broadcaster, I was glad when I saw their fine center, Alex Mack, move around a little on the ground. At the end of the day, everybody wants to go home to their loved ones. Over six seasons as the Browns' center, Mack started 85 consecutive games and played 5,279 snaps, never missing even one, until now.
* Friendly fire is always a Clear and Present danger whenever you have hungry, aggressive guys going after the football. I remember when Donnie Shell pulled the trigger on a slant pattern being covered by Dwayne Woodruff. Donnie cracked the receiver and Woody so hard, Donnie busted Dwayne’s helmet and facemask, leaving Dwayne with a nasty cut on his face, among other things. In the third quarte,r Mike Mitchell didn’t get as hard a hit on Timmons as Donnie did on Dwayne, but LT got bent up into a ballistic yoga position that had to be uncomfortable. I don’t miss those moments as a player at all.
* In a very telling moment in the game, that being the switchover at the end of the third quarter, the Browns' offense jogged to the opposite end of the stadium and the Steelers' defense walked. The body language at this point wasn’t telling me good things. It may be a small point of emphasis, maybe even trite to some, but I still believe in the old-school axiom of never letting them see you bleed. You might be losing on the scoreboard but you are never down and out in your actions.
* In the fourth quarter, Heyward was cut from behind by Joe Thomas and Cam was really upset. Joe came over and extended a hand toward Cam but Cam was having none of it. I understand Cam’s frustration with the cut block and I believe it was a legal cut at that without reviewing game film. Cam’s anger should be expressed to the Competition Committee, whose members seem to think that it’s OK and fineable for Jason Worilds to get thrown to the ground by an offensive lineman and fall into the quarterback’s legs but not fineable to have a 300-plus pound monster dive into your legs. Look, I know I come from an era in which we did much worse to each other, but those were the rules of the day. It seems to me that if the only people being protected by the rules nowadays are offensive players, and make that quarterbacks and receivers more specifically, I think some of those guys on Park Avenue need to have a visit from the “Office Linebacker” and experience the thrill of a chop block. If you are going to go the route of player safety, then cover all the men, not some of the men.
* The post-game interview was difficult to get done, because I know what it’s like as a player, when, after a lousy game, the last thing you want is to go on the air and talk about the lousy game you’ve just played. It’s hard. People fail to see the human side of the player’s life where you spend a great deal of time and energy prepping to play, and then it goes south on you. But I've got to hand it to Will Allen, a true pro who stood tall and spoke candidly about the game afterward. Interviews and face time are part of the life, win or lose. It’s certainly not a fun part of the job. I appreciate you, Will, for your professionalism, and thank you for your time.