October brings out the pink in all of us. With so many having lives somehow, and in some way touched by breast cancer, including Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, whose mother has battled the disease, it was touching to see so many vibrant, joyful and happy faces on the sidelines wearing pink. These ladies really brought a fresh perspective to living life joyfully and thankfully. And Jerome’s mother, Gladys Bettis, there to see her son, sparkled pinker, brighter and happier than ever.
* As if a nationally televised football game with the Ravens wasn’t enough to percolate the adrenaline, Bettis was in the house to receive his Hall of Fame ring from none other than his former coach Bill Cowher. The pre-game sidelines were filled with the anticipation of the halftime celebration and brought out many celebrities and former players to enjoy the festivities. And taking it all in the center of the storm of course was Jerome who was just being Jerome. Gracious, kind and smiling a Hall of Fame worthy smile, The Bus really shined on this special night.
* With Ben Roethlisberger injured, the big question was: Can Michael Vick resurrect some of the marquee magic that had at one time made him a household name? Just prior to the Steelers offense taking the field, Big Ben huddled up with the entire starting offensive unit in a sideline hug and prayer, including Vick, to set the tone for the first series.
* High drama, emotions and adrenaline seemed to run through the Steelers first offensive series that featured an incomplete TE screen attempt to Heath Miller, a false start called against David DeCastro that might as well have included Marcus Gilbert as co-defendant, and a minus 1-yard run by Le’Veon Bell before a completion to Bell and a punt. All in all it looked as if the fellas were a little hyper, which I could certainly understand given all that was going on.
* Stephon Tuitt has been a man on a mission thus far into the 2015 season and he notched sack 3.5 when Ravens C Jeremy Zuttah inexplicably lost sight of him and Tuitt dropped Joe Flacco like a bad habit. Stephon runs so well for such a big man and he’s turning into a nightmare to block.
* Speaking of celebrities and nightmares, in the house waving a Terrible Towel on the sideline was none other than the creator of “Night of The Living Dead,” Pittsburgh native George Romero. Watching him wave the towel, I could only wonder what his nightmares look like. (Full disclosure, folks, I really don’t want to know.)
* Between plays, Ravens NT Brandon Williams, standing at the line of scrimmage awaiting the huddled up Steelers, drew my attention. He is massive. He might look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack in his uniform, but I guarantee he’s a highly competitive sack of spuds. Brandon impresses on tape, and in the flesh. When Williams gets his bull rush going, there’s not much you can do to slow him down.
*Bell played peek-a-boo with the Ravens inside backers on a couple of runs in the first half like I do with my kids. He starts one way, draws Daryl Smith or C.J. Mosley up into the hole, then evades them by bouncing to the next hole or rubbing them off on a double team by the Hogs. That’s just God-given instincts on display. It would be futile to try to teach it or try to imitate by any other.
* Jet motion by the Ravens and Michael Campanaro takes the handoff. Arthur Moats set the edge only to be out-foxed by the smallish WR. A little dipsy-doodle and Campanaro scooted to the outside past Moats and a hard-charging Will Allen who under-trajectoried his intercepting route and the Ravens go up 7-3. It was virtually the same play that the Rams ran with Chris Givens last week in St. Louis to the 7-yard line before Mike Mitchell dropped him. I know Moats would like a mulligan on that one.
* After the Ravens scored, the defense came to the sideline and Steelers defensive line boss John Mitchell really let them have it for, I’m making a slightly educated guess here, not maintaining their gaps and staying on their feet. On the backside of the stretch runs, the offensive linemen try to cut the defensive linemen and get them on the ground for a cutback. I can’t hear Coach Mitch, nor can I read lips, but the blazing eyes told enough of the story to fill in the gaps from what I saw on the Ravens’ scoring drive.
* Ross Cockrell is an interesting newcomer and a guy making waves on the field. Ross has made the most of his short stay in the ‘Burgh, first drawing notice by Mike Tomlin in Ross’ willingness to cover Antonio Brown on a daily basis in practice. It surely says a couple things about you to want to do that. First, you want to be the best you can so why not cover the best there is. Second, it shows the coach that you are willing to work on your weaknesses. As Coach Noll always said, “Don’t work on your strengths, work on your weaknesses.” After Ross intercepted Flacco, I was once again that Coach Noll was right.
* Lawrence Timmons is a human tackling machine. After a slow start in New England, the “Law Dawg” has looked like the guy that he’s always been. Timmons lit up Ravens WR Kamar Aiken for a 1-yard reception that appeared to leave more pain than gain late in the first half.
* Sammie Coates caught his first NFL pass because on the previous play Markus Wheaton got tangled up with the brutish Courtney Upshaw and looked to have tweaked an ankle or foot. Courtney basically trampled on a very game Wheaton like an elephant going through the wicker department at an IKEA. Markus got in the way of Upshaw while Vick used “Wheat” as a human shield. Not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, blocking-wise, but Wheaton was very tough. He was outweighed by nearly 100 pounds but did the job and Vick got to the outside.
* After Vick threw the decisive block on Lardarius Webb after Bell reversed field for a second-quarter touchdown, I chortled into the microphone, “You can’t spell victory without Vick!”
* Oops. Forgot about the k in Vick. Hey, I was only third in my sixth-grade spelling bee. Or was it sixth in my third … ? Never mind.
* The halftime celebration was almost everything that Bettis could’ve wanted. His mother was in good health and in attendance, his former head coach presented him with a Hall of Fame ring, and 65,000 or so of his fans that have supported his ride to a Hall of Fame career were sitting ringside. That works, I’d say.
* Darrius Heyward-Bey looked like the seventh overall pick the Raiders expected him to be. His catch from Vick in the end zone was cause for a joyous celebration on the sidelines and punctuated the rise of DHB from last year’s gunner status on the punt team to a formidable WR. We used to call the WRs back in the day “China Dolls.” DHB is anything but a china doll. Tough dude.
* On a fake field goal attempt in the third quarter, Sean Spence, playing the best football of his short career thus far, shot through and stuffed a run on a forward pitch from the holder to TE Nick Boyle. Specials teams coach Danny Smith came flying off the sideline wind-milling his arm like he was going to light somebody up. Execution in all phases of the game is gi-normous, and Danny does a great job of preparing his guys. To quote another famous Smith, the great John “Hannibal” Smith of the TV series the A-Team, “I love when a plan comes together.” So does Danny.
* The ebb and flow of the fourth quarter was too up and down to track with words and lack of sleep. Watching from the sidelines, knowing how valuable each play was and seeing the Steelers’ lead slowly shrinking left me with memories of games gone past, heart-wrenching, hard-fought losses which seem even more brutal in the rear view reflection. When Josh Scobee missed on the 41-yarder, the sideline lost air faster than a balloon that you blow up and let fly without tying it off.
* Looking around at the body language of the Steelers, as Vick knelt down to send the game into overtime, I wondered how they could right the ship. Where do you find the strength after squandering a lead to battle back and win? There were signs everywhere of a titanic battle having already sapped the resources of a battle-weary group. Looking into the eyes and faces of the players, I could only hope they could dig deeper than they’d already dug, and find something. But when Vick overthrew Brown on a fourth-and-1, there was a subtle shift of things not feeling right in my gullet.
* When Tucker booted the 52-yarder, impending resignation became reality etched on the faces of the players. To have battled your division rival and lose a game like that is excruciating. It reminded me of a walk-off home run toss by Bernie Kosar in Cleveland, mid-80s or so, when Webster Slaughter ran an out and up in overtime and our CB fell down on the out cut. My teammate Tunch Ilkin and I started jogging toward the locker room before Slaughter even crossed the goal line. Bitter battles fought and lost against a bitter rival leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.