There's no doubting where you're at when you walks into Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Instead of beer, hotdogs, and smoke the first thing that tickled my olfactory senses was SPF. That's right, suntan lotion.
On a sun-splashed day in San Diego that gave way to a perfect night for a football game, the vibes on the sidelines were Super Bowl-esque. Even the San Diego Chicken appeared. Seems the critter could've used some weight training. While pre-game pomping on the field, the Chicken attempted to drive a lightning bolt prop with a spear end into the ground like a stake in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench, but he didn't have enough mustard to stick it.
I watched Willie Reid closely during pre-game warm-ups to see if the nerves were on end. He looked as cool as the San Diego air, and handled the punts like a vet. And he showed some promise during the game. Too bad the foot sprain will delay his development.
The front three-some of the Chargers' defense sometimes looked like a four-some, they were so dominant at times. That was a mobile, hostile, and turnstile group that re-loaded at half-time and came out smoking. The turnstile part was the way they came through the Steelers O line like gang busters, especially in the second half.
All week prior to the game Williams, Olshansky, and Castillo jumped out on the film I watched and screamed, "This is the game within the game!" I will tell you as I sit here and write that first half was one of the most violent clashes of big bodies in a contained area I've seen since my demolition derby-watching days.
After the Willie Parker nine-yard TD run in the second quarter, Jeff Hartings crossed by me on the sidelines as he made his way to a Gatorade reload. He had the fevered look of a rodeo cowboy who had just gone seven seconds on a bull named Jamal and won. In other words, he was in the battle of his life, but for three plays in a row, Hartings had the better of nose tackle Jamal Williams including slamming Williams on the TD run. I really believed at that point the Steelers' line would enforce their will. They didn't.
I've heard people say Williams is the closest thing to Curly Culp in modern times and, taking Casey Hampton out of the equation, I agree. As a guy who had a close encounter of the third kind a time or two with Culp, you have to tip your hat sometimes.
Casey Hampton was equally marvelous. And I dare say that he outplayed Williams. Casey nailed LT on the Chargers' first play from scrimmage, a screen pass. He followed that up later on by rumbling 20 some yards downfield to take down Tomlinson in open field. And Big Snack didn't take a backwards step all night. On one play Casey drove Chargers center Nick Hardwick into the Pacific Ocean.
Philip Rivers showed a lot of poise. Tunch Ilkin made the assessment after watching film that Rivers made most of his decisions on where to go with the ball pre-snap and had a tendency to stare down his receivers. That came true on the third play of the game when Ryan Clark snagged one.
Rivers continuously went at the soft cover spot whenever a cushion was given. When you're a blitzing team, you've gotta make a decision. Something's got to give, you can't have it all. If you blitz, oftentimes there isn't safety help over the top. Therefore you have to give a cushion. The Steelers threw almost every stunt, blitz and coverage known to man. What was missing, especially in the second half, was sure-fire tackling.
Deshea Townsend couldn't have been in better position on those two TD passes he gave up. On one, he needed four more inches in height. The second, (to Gates) looked like Shaq posting up Spud Webb. That's a lot of rump to get around.
A normally unflappable Russ Grimm went ballistic on the hogs on the sidelines after a screen pass in the second half turned into a jail break. When the Grimm-meister gets hot, things are not looking up.
The Steelers' defense had a look of disbelief on their faces in the fourth quarter. At one point Casey came off the field shaking his head in discouragement. The last three San Diego drives of the game, prior to taking a knee, went eleven plays, fourteen, and eleven more. All were scoring drives.
Yes I know the Steelers' offense generated little in the second half, but somebody has to make a play to get you off the field. If you asked anybody on the Steelers' defense, they would tell you the same thing.