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View From The Steelers Sideline

Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley with his must-read notebook on the Burfict Watch from Cincinnati.

One of my favorite players is Will Gay. Yes, he’s been through a lot in his career, not to mention the challenges of his life story growing up. Well-spoken, polished and a dapper dresser to be sure, he is truly an impressive man in every way. So I was a bit taken back when I saw him at the pre-game meal at the Steelers hotel. The man had gone out and bought the ugliest "Ugly Christmas” sweater I saw on the trip. Then again, it was a better looking sweater than any of the sweaters I have ever worn.

* Sitting ringside for warmups on a nice heated bench overlooking the 50-yard line for any possible pre-game "festivities" became an exercise in futility. The refs were out in force. Those officials patrolled the 50-yard line like the prison guards in “Cool Hand Luke.” Not even an angry glance from one player to another would've gotten past these guys.
* Yep, there’s Gay dancing in pre-game stretch. An excellent dancer, I remember when Will was playing for the Arizona Cardinals, and watching he and Ike Taylor in a “dance-off” from opposite sidelines when the Steelers were playing in Arizona some years ago. One would bust a move, then laugh and point across the field to the other who would then respond with another dance move and so on and so forth. All with a few compadres standing by to rate them.

* Three plays into the game and I’m not liking the look on Stephon Tuitt’s face. Steph roared in on Andy Dalton with a thunderous pass rush, only to snag the facemask and negate a sack. Tuitt was just lying there and from my vantage point, looking straight into his face, I see concern. The look is straight out of "something popped, strained, or tore." What it is, I don't know, but this I do know: The Steelers can ill afford to lose Tuitt.

* On a first-and-goal at the 7, the Bengals tried to ram Jeremy Hill straight down the throat of the Steelers defense. Without Tuitt, the Steelers are going with Dan McCullers at NT. Bengals C Russell Bodine and RG Kevin Zeitler attempt to double-team McCullers. Big Dan stones the attempt, then disengages from Bodine to drill Hill after a 1-yard run. Think about it. You hold up two men weighing a combined total of 630 pounds. After not being moved back an inch, you reach out and grab a 235-pound man and slam him to the ground after a gain of 36 inches. Pretty impressive in my book.

* Sammie Coates broke three tackles on the ensuing kickoff return after the Bengals had gone up 3-0. Wouldn’t you know it, the Steelers recently released kicker, Randy Bullock shoved Sammie out of bounds after a 44-yard return. Somewhere in that mass of hugs on the sideline somebody has to be needling Coates about a kicker bouncing him outta bounds. Just saying.

* If anybody thought Sunday’s game was going to be as gentlemanly as the first meeting at Heinz Field this season, they were mistaken. Vontaze Burfict, absent from the first game,  quickly showed me he was intending to pick up where he left off during the meltdown in Cincy last playoffs. When Le'Veon Bell took a checkdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage and was tackled by Vincent Rey after a first down, Burfict came up alongside Bell and shadowed him closely, seemingly chirping in Lev’s ear until Lev got back on his side of the ball.

* In the second quarter, Eli Rogers caught a pass over the middle and Burfict speared him “el flagrante.” I mean Burfict put his head in the middle of Eli’s chest/head area and belted him. The umpire sitting behind the linebackers seemingly didn’t notice, but Big Ben sure did. After the play, he sprinted towards the official gesturing a blow to the head but to no apparent avail.

* Hill scored a touchdown in the second quarter and ran to the back of the end zone. Someone dropped a Terrible Towel on the field of play and Hill noticed it immediately. He picked it up and tried to tear it before spiking it. It struck me that young Jeremy was likely going to incur the wrath of “Cope's Curse.” Remember the Titans in ’08? Or the Bengals in ’05? When will they learn? You don’t desecrate the Towel.

* Was the Towel a plant? I don’t know. If it was, then it would be a prop, which should draw a flag. But I had a gnawing sensation that Jeremy would regret what he just did.

* Burfict just blind-sided Rosie Nix. I mean bad. Rosie never saw him, was on the other side of the field, away from the ball, when the Burfict cheap-shotted him right in front of the Steelers bench. I’m just guessing mind you, but I think that one might go to the Commissioner’s office for a review.
* Well, well, well. I think Burfict just tried to take out the wrong guy. David DeCastro, pulling from his RG position and leading Bell around the left side, saw Burfict flying at him at about waist level or lower. David lowered his strike zone to match Burfict's and there was a stunning clash of helmets. The two collided like two mountain goats vying for supremacy. Both contenders stayed down after the murderous collision. Burfict was helped to the sideline after signs of rigidity, or stiffening of the arm muscles, while he lay on the turf. Burfict obviously had just checked into Monday for a short time and was wobbly and unable to get up and off the field without doing the “John Wayne” walk. DeCastro got up and off the field under his own power, going out for a play but right back into the fray with maybe a stinger. Dave is one tough dude.

* In the third quarter, Ben aired one out to Antonio Brown running an end zone route. There was some jostling and hands in and up around the facemask of AB, and replays showed a facemask penalty could have been called. AB came back to the sideline furious over the missed call, gesturing to the refs that his facemask had been pulled.

* After Chris Boswell booted the fourth of his team record-tying six field goals on the day, the Steelers kicked off and safety Jordan Dangerfield got tangled up with 6-6, 250-pound TE Tyler Kroft. Apparently Jordan walloped Kroft more than Kroft walloped Jordan. Kroft was called for holding, but in moments like these, when you see physical mismatches in high velocity, trauma-inducing ballistic moments, you can certainly appreciate the old saying, “Being crazy isn’t necessary, but it sure does help.”

* Somebody should have warned Jeremy Hill of Cope's Curse. After messing with the Towel in the first half, Hill got laid out in the second half on a vicious combined tackle of Bud Dupree and Sean Davis. Great play by Bud and Sean, bad mojo on the horizon for Hill. He would return and rush six times in the second half for minus 1 yard.

* "Law Dawg" Timmons was on a roll, and I think his compadre at this side, Ryan Shazier has been part and parcel of Timmons looking like the young tiger out there. He’s playing some serious bang-bang football and after dropping Hill after a 1-yard gain, he intercepted Dalton. Andrew Whitworth, the giant LT of the Bengals, tackled LT on the return in what first appeared to be a facemask. Whitworth actually caught LT by the front of his shoulder pads in the neck area, and had such hand strength that LT looked like a rag doll whipping around.

* You just can’t help but watch Shazier. In the fourth quarter, Ryan did to Bengals RG Kevin Zeitler what he did to Buffalo’s Richie Incognito. Ryan sees movement his way, reads his keys in high octane, reacts and shoots the gap with such speed that Zeitler could only “bless” Shazier with a two-hand touch. Two-hand touch ain’t going to get it done and Ryan dropped Hill like after a 1-yard gain. Shazier is really starting to display some amazing read/react skills. When you see a linebacker beat an offensive lineman to the spot, it’s a great job. When a linebacker can beat the lineman so badly that he barely gets touched and then drops the ball carrier for little to no gain, you are starting to get into some rarefied air.

* Field Judge Mike Banks just got a face full of Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Antonio Brown when, on the failed 2-point conversion attempt after Eli Rogers caught a touchdown pass, Adam Jones gave AB a face full of himself in the corner of the end zone. Jones just fronted AB, never turned to the ball or even tried to look like he was looking for the ball. Obvious pass interference you would think. But, you would be wrong.

* When the game was over I got Boswell as my guest on the post-game interview for the Steelers Radio Network. As the producer in my ear counted down, I was getting the questions in my head straight and talking with Chris about how great it was to tie a franchise record with his six field goals, and also showing his athleticism by making a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return. Chris was patiently waiting for the producer to say “go.” The moment we went live, my microphone batteries sapped because of the cold weather and we went dead. It was Chris’ only miss of the night. And I don’t think he minded heading into the warm locker room one bit.  

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