During pregame, the Browns' front-office personnel were directing a salute to service practice session with armed forces personnel and volunteers on the field at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium. They were holding, or at least attempting to hold, a gi-normous American flag in place when a gust of wind filled the huge flag like a parachute. The lakefront wind gusts grew so strong that the flag actually lifted one participant off the ground, as if to blow her away. Give that poor lady a sandbag or two to hold her down.
* Even though it was cold and blustery, Darrius Heyward-Bey, walking boot and all, greeted his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates on the field. It says a lot about the man that even though he’s relegated to cheering, he still seeks to be a part of the team, to be an encourager, to be a pair of extra eyeballs. Guys like that serve as inspiration and resource for other players. Those are guys you want in your room.
* In the first quarter, as the Browns attempted to run a counter trap with a pulling guard, Ryan Shazier shot the A gap and closed on Browns RB Isaiah Crowell. Before Crowell could figure out what happened, he was thrown for a 2-yard loss. Crowell runs angry, almost as if he “hunts up” defenders, rather than the other way around. Getting to Crowell before he gets north and south takes away his biggest advantage, which is his tendency to run in front of, rather than behind, his pads. Shazier’s ability to read/run/hit is growing by the week. Read it, run to it, hit it. It’s a simple game really.
* Artie Burns continues to grow into his role at CB. Burns found himself on a go route running stride for stride with Brownie rookie WR Corey Coleman. With the ball hanging in the air from the infernal wind gusts, Burns transitioned from running with Coleman to “snapping his head around” and locating the ball. Burns then went up and got the ball. Wow. That was right in front of me, and it was a superlative display of athleticism and technique.
* I think we’ve all heard of a guy covering someone so tight that he “hung on him like a cheap suit.” Well, Joe Haden hung on Antonio Brown that tightly from the catch point to the ground on a bubble screen to hold AB to just a 3-yard gain. The one thing I would change about the metaphor is that with multiple Pro Bowls, Joe Haden does not come cheap. Suit or otherwise.
* In a bit of foreshadowing of a monster day, Stephon Tuitt came off the ball and threw a power outside uppercut on OG John Greco that spun the 6-4, 320-pound man like a Grand Central Station turnstile during rush hour. It was a powerful blow, with just enough forward body lean that Greco couldn’t recover. And QB Cody Kessler bit the dust a couple of heartbeats later for the first of eight sacks recorded on this day.
* In the midst of a 16-play, 68-yard, 9:28 drive the Steelers undertook in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger stepped up from shotgun to the line of scrimmage. Ben obviously was trying to audible, and while doing so it looked like Ben bumped or leaned forward enough to make contact with OG David DeCastro. Whether it startled Dave or he moved because Ben off-balanced him, I don’t know, but Ben was emphatic in addressing the referee, trying to make a point maybe that he (Ben) bumped Dave enough to cause it to look like DeCastro jumped. I remember when Terry Bradshaw mistakenly put his hands under my butt rather than Mike Webster's, who was right next to me, for a snap one game. I held firm like a rock I did. I told Terry without moving a muscle, “One butt to the right.”
* Even though I've seen all of Ben’s games in person, and have been privileged enough to witness some amazing moments, Ben still pulls something out of his hat every now and then that makes me look twice. With 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Browns got some heat in his kitchen. A couple quick body shifts later, Ben was falling sideways to his throwing-arm side. As he fell, he targeted Le'Veon Bell in the flat and was able, despite almost being horizontal, to deliver the ball for a modest gain while diving around redwood tree-sized bodies. Maybe in the big picture it’s not up there with the bigger moments, but in my humble estimation it was really all about the competitor that Ben has always been. And getting it done.
* The Steelers racked up two 9-minute plus drives in the first half. I had to look up the times, but I knew they were long when I noticed the DBs sporting sweatpants over their football pants while wearing capes and sitting on a heated bench. The Steelers offense was so first-half dominant that the secondary guys needed extra stuff to keep their hamhocks warm.
* Haden was in the middle of an “it’s all about me” personal moment/celebration after successfully defending AB and his touchdown attempt at the end of the first half. What Joe didn’t see was a yellow flag on the ground not too far from him. Yep, pass interference. The Big Ragu, Ramon Foster, ambled up to Joe in the middle of his number and directed his attention to the flag, which immediately quashed Haden's little party.
* It was at this point beer cans began landing in the end zone. I noticed that most of the them didn’t make it to the back of the end zone. Shoot, I remember back in the day, in the old Dawg Pound, when somebody chucked a full can of beer at my helmeted head. It missed and landed at the 2-yard line. Now THAT guy had some arm strength.
* In the third quarter, James Harrison beat the pants off future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas on a reverse. Joe pulled James down from the backside so blatantly (and got away with it), that it took me back to Terry Bradshaw’s last game December 15th, 1983 at Shea Stadium against the Jets. Ben Rudolph came on a twist stunt free and clear because I was up to my eyeballs in 6-5, 300-pound DT Marty Lyons. Needless to say, I blatantly tackled Rudolph (got away with it, too), so I know what inspired Joe to do what he did.
* It was first and goal at the 1-yard line for the Browns. At ground hog level it looked like a “Messing with Sasquatch” moment when Dan McCullers (6-7, 352 pounds) ripped through the line and mauled Crowell for a 2-yard loss. So impressive was the McCullers, I found myself standing there thankful I was just standing there and not playing against Big Dan. Thanksgiving started early for me this week.
* There it is, James Harrison is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) Steelers pass rusher, surpassing Jason Gildon. James fired from the outside and the Browns tried to slide protect with a guard dropping back to pick him up. Bad move by the Browns; bad moment for QB Kessler. James was embraced by his teammates and congratulated. How does this guy keep playing at a level at which guys half his age would love to play? I have a lot of admiration for the strength, perseverance and leadership of Deebo. One of a kind, to be sure.
* Art Moats showed up big on this day. He had an early sack and was joined by Tuitt in the fourth quarter to sack Josh McCown. But “word on the street,” as Casey Hampton used to say, has it that Arthur will get the whole sack to himself after NFL review. Regardless, The Steelers were sacking Browns QBs like Giant Eagle bag boys sacking groceries the day before Thanksgiving.
* You know when a facemask is dangerous to one’s health? When the player is falling down to the ground (Lev Bell), but the player’s head goes up due to somebody pulling on the grille, (like maybe No. 94, DE Carl Nassib). It was obvious from where I was on the sidelines. I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Of course there were a lot of guys around me on the sideline wearing pads and headsets saying it, too. No flags though.
* Shazier made the play of the game when he hunted down McCown and slapped the ball out of the QB's hand while in his own end zone. Javon Hargrave, running at McCown, had the ball bounce right to him. It bounced off his hands and then back into the end zone. Hargrave then accelerated like Han Solo jumping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon. Javon jumped on the ball and recorded his first NFL touchdown.
* If you wanted a visual definition of a de-cleater you could do no better than Tuitt’s slobberknocker of a hit on McCown. I was surprised McCown’s shoes were still on his feet, so forceful of a hit was it. The last time somebody had a house fall on them like that was in the Wizard of Oz. A de-cleater, to be sure.
* Really? There’s literally one second on the clock when timeout was called. There’s a lot of grumbling on the sideline over the Browns prolonging an already cold and over afternoon of fun.
* OK, now I get it. The officials readjusted the time on the clock to show two seconds. Now it makes perfect sense.