Sunny and warm days are memorable at the end of October, when the leaves are running their brilliant course of coloring the trees and then finally falling to the ground. This last Sunday of October proved to be brilliant in so many ways.
* In the first quarter, on a Le’Veon Bell run – which we referred to as “14 Straight” back in the day – he gained a half-dozen or so yards over the tackle spot. What I loved came at the end of the run: Mike Adams, all 325 pounds, threw his gi-normous body over the pile to scrape some would-be, late-to- the-dance and ready-to-hit defenders who were trying to get a helmet on Bell. Years ago defensive guys called it “marinating the meat.” They intend to put some close-to-the-whistle hits on vulnerable spots like the thighs and ribs, which over the course of a game tend to take the jump out of a running back’s or wide receiver’s legs. It’s why running to and policing the pile in my day was so important. You gotta take care of the guys that take care of you on the scoreboard.
* I knew Ben Roethlisberger was pumped for this game. He’s generally pretty pumped up all the time, but after zipping a TD pass to Markus Wheaton to open the assault on club records, Ben met Markus on the sideline and gave him a big ol’ hug-up, which had Markus laughing and Ben as well. Though he won’t admit it publicly, Ben was extra-motivated for this game. If you have a pulse and play this game, you have to be competitive. When all you hear about is the greatness of your opponent, you want to remind people that you’re not exactly chopped liver, as the Turk up in the booth likes to say.
* Still in the first quarter, Andrew Luck play-actions to a trap pass, which had Troy Polamalu blitzing off the end of the line with a pulling guard and running back coming up to meet him. And they “high/lowed” him, with the back cutting Troy’s legs from the front while the guard drove into his side. Troy survived the impact, though the collision was so hard I half-expected a crash-bag deployment. What amazed me was that this bunch of officials seemed so locked into calling illegal chucks and pass interference, they couldn’t tell the trees from the forest. I don’t know if they’ve been keeping up with recent events, but high/lows went out some time ago.
*Bell had another hard-charging run up the middle of the line and Colts DB Vontae Davis came up hurt after everybody rolled off the pile. Vontae got on all fours – knees and hands on the ground. Then he started checking his knee with a hip movement I think I’ve seen on a Jane Fonda aerobic workout video. Very funny.
* When William Gay intercepted Luck and ran it back for six points, all that stood in the way of the TD was Luck, and Luck’s luck ran out. Jason Worilds got to play the part of destroyer and flattened Luck to remove the last obstacle until paydirt. After Will hit the sideline, Ike Taylor and Joey Porter beat on his helmet so much I was afraid they might have to run Gay through the concussion protocol.
* During the timeout review of Colts TE Dwayne Allen’s TD catch, I was stirred by the crowd rising and clapping in the stands behind me. There, held high for all to see, were some of our Canadian brethren holding aloft the Canadian flag, with its distinctive Maple Leaf in the middle. After the tragedy in Ottawa, and the somber realization of more terrorism being wreaked upon innocent people, seeing Steelers fans standing to cheer on our Canadian Steelers fans was moving.
* Dri Archer looks like he’s really struggling. He doesn’t look confident with the ball in his hands, but I guess getting it into his hands first would help. Dri dropped what looked to be a drag screen across the middle after he committed the sin of not looking the ball into his hands. After Dri headed back to the sideline, Mike Tomlin barked a few words at him. Rookie years are tough years. Sometimes you have to spend time in the fire before you reap the rewards.
* Late in the first half, Shaun Suisham kicked a FG but the Colts were offside, and Colts DB Sergio Brown had a near meltdown. Sergio kept miming to the referee a snapper “squeezing” the ball, which, of course, might draw somebody offside. I’m sorry, but Greg Warren just doesn’t seem that nefarious to me. Now if you said Mike Webster, oh yeah, I’ve known HIM to squeeze a ball or two, but not Warren. And I say this with a smile on my face.
* After a Steelers kickoff, Antwon Blake knocked Andy Studebaker (a linebacker) to the Heinz Field turf. Studebaker put up his hand to Blake, looking for a little help up, but Blake just waved him off and walked away. This reminded me of a Greg Lloyd and Jerry Olsavsky story. Jerry had knocked a guy down and then stuck out his hand to help him up. Lloyd slapped Jerry’s hand away before he could help the guy. Greg snarled, “We don’t do that.”
* Martavis Bryant’s second TD pass was a perfect example of what had been lacking in the Steelers’ red-zone offense, that being real estate upstairs. Martavis and his 6-4 frame versus a Lilliputian 5-11 CB. Bryant wins. When you can’t stretch the boundaries with horizontal separation, then you have to start getting vertical separation. Six-foot-four does it for you.
* The collapsing pocket around Luck grew even more menacing in the second half. At one point I told Tunch Ilkin that the pocket around Luck reminded me of the movie “300,” when the Spartans piled the bodies of the Persian invaders onto each other to make a human wall of bodies.
* Now that’s a lesson learned. Colts WR Donte Moncrief ran an out pattern towards the sideline, where I happened to be standing with one of my favorite doctors in the whole world, Steelers team doctor Tony Yates. Doc got creamed in Dallas a couple years ago when Jason Witten blew him up on the sidelines when he wasn’t paying attention. Not so this time. Like a cat Doc Yates zipped out of harm’s way when Moncrief came crashing into the sidelines. The smirk of self-preservation on his face said it all.
* It was sometime later in the second half, after Luck took yet another vaporizing hit from Lawrence Timmons, that I began to hear the melody and lines from country star Pat Green and his song, “Wave on wave,” because it had been wave on wave of Steelers defenders that had been crashing over Luck. Piñatas at Halloween parties don’t take such a pounding.
* It’s been a while, but there was an old-school rendition of “Here we go Steelers, here we go!” coming to life in the stands late in the game. It began with a few and cascaded down from higher up until it caught fire down near me. I hadn’t heard that cheer at that volume for quite some time.
* You know the hay is in the barn and the day’s work is over when Larry Richert announces over the Heinz Field PA that Ben has become the first NFL QB to go over 500 yards twice in his career. I enjoyed watching the hogs high-fiving in the huddle. That record is just as much theirs as it is Ben’s. Just ask Ben.