Startled from a deep slumber to some resemblance of a form of wakefulness, I grappled in the dark with the blaring hotel room phone. I had left a wake-up call, but the phone wouldn’t stop ringing despite my best attempts to strangle it silent. After what seemed an eternity of enduring the ringing of the phone and punching various random buttons I recovered enough of my senses to discover that I was trying to kill the wrong messenger. The previous occupant had set the alarm clock an hour earlier than I had left a wake-up call. This wouldn’t be the first “False Start” of the day.
* The Edward Jones Dome proved to be a haven for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. With the Rams supposedly having one foot in L.A. already, interest in the Rams has dwindled in Saint Louis. Everywhere I looked in the stands of the lower bowl was Steelers paraphernalia and signs. The grounds crew told tales of people having been in from LA shadowing all the game-day officials and their game-day duties. Methinks the Rams have more than one foot in L.A. already.
* In a real twist from the get-go, the Steelers won the coin toss and Mike Tomlin elected to put his offense on the field first and set the tone. I loved it. The Rams defense was put on notice that the Steelers offense was coming after them. Aggressive move by Mike. As a player, and an offensive lineman, I always wanted the ball at the coin toss. I wanted to get to the skull cracking right away, and I hated when we had to kickoff and our defense took the field first. It’s like waiting for a rocket launch when you’re an astronaut. But you don’t need any rocket boosters because the mental “RPMs” are red-lining the entire time you’re waiting.
* As if waiting to get to the skull-cracking isn’t hard enough, the pyrotechnics in pre-game went awry and lit the turf on fire. Pretty soon there was a construction-crew setting in which three guys cleaned the field and 30 others stood around giving directions and orders. I had to smile. If Coach Noll had been in the house he would have that crew tight and humping it. Ten minutes of delay turned into a 30-minute delay, complete with both teams having to go back to their respective locker rooms and re-emerge only to go through warm-ups yet again. And believe me when I say Chuck would’ve had that mess cleaned up in just a few minutes.
* Ben Roethlisberger was seven-for-eight on the first drive and 13-for-15 after two drives with the offense running 3-WR sets and at times empty backfield. Snap-throw, snap-throw; Ben had the ball coming out in two seconds or less. The offensive line had its way initially with the Rams defensive line. The only person that can be compared to Aaron Donald in his snap reaction off the ball would have to be an Olympic sprinter. Standing at the line of scrimmage on the sidelines, I watched time and again as Donald was face-first into the body of a Steelers offensive lineman while the rest of his linemates hadn’t even moved. The Penn Hills native is an exceptional player.
* Ben’s completion to Heath Miller at the St. Louis 2-yard line was a beautiful example of David DeCastro showing how to “Sheriff the pile.” DeCastro hoofed it down the field, along with Cody Wallace, and the two peeled guys off piles to protect teammates. You can save your ball-carrying buddies some wicked shots by hustling down the field with a bad attitude. Loved it.
* As Cameron Heyward says, you gotta win your one-on-ones. Stephon Tuitt took it to heart and is continuing his rise as a player of consequence. Tuitt got his bull rush on and took Rams RG Rodger Saffold backward after sinking the lockout on Saffold. After putting Saffold on his heels and walking him backward like a refrigerator, Tuitt worked to Saffold’s inner edge, disengaged and accelerated to the sack. Just like John Mitchell teaches it.
* Just exactly how high can Le'Veon Bell leap? Sweet Marie if that wasn’t the most ridiculously insane athletic move when Bell went Roger Kingdom on a couple of Rams defenders along the sideline. Too bad I couldn’t have positioned myself right in front to get a selfie. That one mighta left a mark, though.
* Tavon Austin and Will Allen got a little dust kicked up between them on a play in which Tavon tried to block Will. No biggie, just your average run-of-the-mill chinner, where you’re up into each other’s grill and reciting your opponent’s lineage from Ancestry.com. Two plays later, one-upsmanship had Austin hooking up on an underneath route and getting blasted by Allen after catching a short pass. Allen converged on Austin like a wolverine with its hair on fire. I happened to be standing where I could see Will break on the ball over Austin’s shoulder . I swear Will was smiling. And it wasn’t a friendly smile. Definitely predatorial.
* There’s that big guy again, Tuitt, hustling downfield to make a tackle on Benny Cunningham. That’s a long way from home base for Stephon, but running to the ball is the way it’s done. That’s an example of a good habit learned early.
* In the third quarter Rams safety Mark Barron got caught interfering with Bell in coverage. Barron was so guilty he didn’t even attempt to argue with the referee. Dead giveaway. Defensive backs are no doubt the most argumentative group of all the guys in the house. That’s been my experience. There’s very little they won’t argue over. They will argue just for the sake of arguing. When they go silent, it’s definitely an admission of guilt.
* The new NFL concussion protocol got Antwon Blake, who was a little slow to get to his feet after a play and the neutral observer upstairs radioed down to the ref to hold up the game and take Blake off the field for a little “How many fingers am I holding up?” type of questioning. Antwon looked perturbed, like he was being escorted to the principal’s office for a timeout. Anybody who’s “Slugged their way into the league,” as Antwon says, surely spent some quality time back in elementary school with a principal now and then.
* I’m ringside, groundhog level, when in the third quarter Antonio Brown pulled off the unbelievable to grab another set of downs after breaking a tackle and reversing his field on third-and-13. “George Jefferson,” as Tomlin calls him, left folks on the sidelines shaking their heads in disbelief. What Antonio does every day would be the spectacular of every other day in the life of an average NFL receiver.
* In the fourth quarter, with things heating up in the trenches, Rams DT Nick Fairley stood at the line of scrimmage doing a little song, dance and spoken word smackdown while the Steelers huddled. Seems like Nick was just stoking the fire, poking the bear. Guys like that back in the day were prime meat for a good old-fashioned trap play. Let ’em through and BANG!
* Fourth quarter, first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, the Rams’ Tre Mason takes a handoff and is running to his right. Sean Spence scrapes hard downhill, coming right off the pileup in the “three hole,” and drops Mason like a bad habit for a 2-yard loss. A terrific play by Sean. It’s interesting that I saw Steelers inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky – a former teammate and excellent inside backer who would scrape downhill hard in his day – working the very same sequence of events in a drill during the week of practice leading to this game. Spence is obviously listening to Jerry.
* Darrius Heyward-Bey got seven yards when the Steelers needed nine. The two-minute timeout was called and I could see the look on Tomlin’s face, and it sure looked like he wanted to go for it on fourth down. Mike is, as everyone knows, an aggressive coach and it looked like the gears were grinding there for a moment.
* After the Josh Scobee field goal, Tomlin walked down the sideline and I have no idea what he was thinking but his body language said he wasn’t happy about having kicked it.
* On the Rams’ final drive, James Harrison got his “No dip, just rip” uppercut sunk on Rams OT Greg Robinson. Robinson hooked Deebo’s arm like they were partners in a ballistic square dance and whipped Deebo to the ground. It was, for Robinson, the second most blatant holding/personal foul I’ve ever personally witnessed. The worst? Well, that would be me, during Terry Bradshaw’s final game. But that’s a story for another time.
* Tomlin shaking hands with Bell outside the locker room as his team came off the turf following: “Welcome back,” Tomlin said. Indeed.