Taking the field at Qualcomm, formerly the “Murph,” or Jack Murphy Stadium, I was momentarily taken aback and overwhelmed by the warm applause and greetings of a very loud and raucous Steelers Nation as I emerged from the players' tunnel into the bright San Diego sunshine. Then I realized that I had walked out onto the field with Ben Roethlisberger. My inner “Bob Uecker” emerged, yep, I must be in the front row here somewhere.
* I took a seat on the bench, sitting ringside, groundhog level, looking at the “Ring of Honor” of the many greats of Chargers past whose names were recorded for all-time, (or at least until the Chargers move to L.A.). Guys like Fred Dean (the original “Tweener”), big ol' Louie Kelcher (345 pounds back in the day), or Gary “Big Hands” Johnson (multiple Pro Bowls and All-Pros, 17.5 sacks one year). Dean, Kelcher and Johnson were tagged with the nickname the “Bruise Brothers.” All guys I had played against, rolled around on the turf with and got into beefs with. That, along with the San Diego sunshine made for a nice moment of reminiscing.
* The pregame six-member military parachute team that featured a Navy Seal flying the flag behind him was impressive. While standing with Carnell Lake, we talked about how hard the parachutists were working to overcome the wind shear that seemed to hit around the top of the stadium during the descent of each paratrooper. Amazingly, the last jumper, the Navy Seal, as he was skimming along the stadium surface just before touch down, semi-successfully kicked a football off of a tee. Apparently nobody told him the kicking tryouts were last week. In all seriousness, can you imagine stepping out of a plane, pinpointing the stadium, lining up the wind currents so that you can approach a ball sitting on a kicking tee approximately 1-2,000 feet below?
* Chargers RB Melvin Gordon carried the ball on a cutback in the first quarter. Though the gain was a modest 3-4 yards, Gordon broke several tackles and displayed grittiness in busting through a pair of arms. I happened to be standing on the sideline near Steelers OLB coach Joey Porter, and Joey was making it abundantly clear that his protégées were not wrapping up on the tackle. Joey was engaged, animated and deeply into the moment with his guys out on the field. Seeing the ability of Bud Dupree to compete and share time with veteran Art Moats, and Jarvis Jones’ steady progress in play results and technique (believe me, one doesn’t happen without the other), I think it’s safe to say Joey’s getting the job done.
* Also in the first quarter, the Steelers offense ran a “Toss 14-Straight,” in my terminology from the 80’s, with Le'Veon Bell taking a toss handoff and starting to his right and cutting to the backside. But what was so beautiful about this play was the rare, but glorious, “Triple Gyro” of blocks on the backside. Back in the day, when a Hog pancaked an opponent we awarded each other something that was near and dear to the hearts of all the fat guys in the O-Line’s meeting room: a Gyro sandwich. Cody Wallace knocked Manti Te'o on his keister. Hear me now and believe me later when I tell you it was a knockout shot. Meanwhile his running mate, "The Big Ragu," Ramon Foster, was locked on and in the midst of dropping a big splash on some unfortunate Chargers soul who may well be still buried under the turf at Qualcomm, such was the force of his backside hit. Likewise, Kelvin Beachum followed that thunderous hit by Ragu in completing the rare triple pancake with a nice splatting over-the-pile piledriver on another Chargers defensive player. Moments like that leave you brushing the tears away.
* Somewhere in the first half I saw Will Allen on the doc’s table getting his ankle checked out. I was standing about 20-some yards away, but I could see all the classical, tell-tale signs of an injured player coming to grips with having to leave the game. And in the mind of a player such as Will, first comes denial where you try to tell yourself that it’s not that bad, the offending body part simply needs to re-boot and “I’ll be back;” then comes anger, either at the body part itself or the person that caused the injured body part; and finally comes resignation and the fact that the fun festivities for the evening are over, at least for you. It’s never fun, but it happens to everybody sooner or later.
* Jarvis Jones came around on a twist stunt and recorded his first sack of the season after being oh-so-close many times. He’s the fourth Porter-coached OLB to mark in the sack department. Jarvis got the hamhocks churning after turning the corner and finding his way blocked to Philip Rivers. Jarvis simply overpowered someone in blue to sack the Rivers. Sacks and fumbles tend to come in bunches so I’m keen to see what this does for Jones as the season progresses. “Success begets success,” or so they say. I’m thinking Jarvis “begetting more sacks.”
* Speaking of begetting more, Jones followed up a fist half sack with a second-half strip of Gordon, who laid the ball out on the turf. Shamarko Thomas pounced on it, laid there for a heartbeat or two, then got to his feet and ran into the end zone. Somewhere, back around midfield, someone in a zebra shirt claimed to have whistled the play dead. I for one never heard a whistle, and among several people I quizzed, none were able to verify a whistle.
* The vocal Steelers Nation now fully taking control of Qualcomm, raised their voices in unison as Rivers, hampered by an ever-changing offensive line playing unfamiliar positions, tried to rally his troops at the line of scrimmage. So deafening was Steelers Nation that Rivers had to resort to a silent count in his HOME stadium. I kid you not. Rivers, with the clock ticking away, had to change the play, try to call out the protection, put a couple of guys in their places and then get the ball snapped. Meanwhile, Mike Mitchell and Antwon Blake were up to defensive nogginizing as they worked a pass coverage perfectly, enabling Blake to undercut a route that Rivers, partially due to being pressed for time, didn’t recognize. Antwon swooped under, gobbled up the ball and following a bunch of blocks made his way into the end zone for a pick-six. Gadzooks, I thought Kevin Colbert was going to pull a hammie, so fired up he was.
* Jacoby Jones has been a pain in the butt for the Steelers in his Ravens days over the years. So when Jones made his way toward the proverbial picket fence the Chargers had set up for him on a fourth-quarter punt return I felt angst in my gullet immediately. If Jacoby had gotten to the wall of blockers on the far side of the field from me, he was six points waiting to happen. But then the Steelers contain man, Roosevelt Nix, beat his man to the interception point and laid out to bust up what was a sure touchdown had Jones made it around Nix. A seriously good play by the Nix.
* When Heath Miller caught the pass to set up the Bell winner, I turned to find Mike Tomlin. I have heard coaches say that they don’t second guess themselves, that they aren’t afraid of the repercussions of taking a chance. Most times, you can bet that it’s just brave talk to be heard. I kid you not, when Tomlin says, “I don’t live in my fears,” you better believe he doesn’t live in his fears. If you could have seen that which I got to see, and that was a very calm, cool and focused Mike Tomlin not even hesitating to make the call to go for the winner. To see the manner in which he did it, all I can say is he is as he says he is: One who doesn’t live in his fears.
* The beauty of that touchdown by Bell was David DeCastro pulling around and leading Bell up into the hole. Dave didn’t lock up with just one guy. Using what we used to call a “logging” technique, Dave turned up in the hole and essentially became a human shield for Lev and got pieces of three different guys. Dave kept pile-driving forward and sealed the inside, not allowing the “most dangerous” opponent at the moment to cross his face without sealing him. Lev was poetry in motion in his extension of a “coup de grace” metaphorical death blow to the hopes of the San Diego Chargers when he got the ball across the plane of the goal line.
* The sidelines? Beserko, man just plain berserko ...