My thoughts, for what they're worth ...

Ian Whetstone lucked into tickets to this game, and not even the windy, freezing cold kept him from enjoying a butt-whooping of the Cleveland Browns to even the all-time record in this classic rivalry.

- Fortunately, hot chocolate is the cheapest item available for purchase within the boundaries of Heinz Field, and I downed them two at a time in an effort to avoid confronting my own idiocy at not having worn any gloves.

- Sean Morey has done better than probably anyone expected filling in as a kick returner, but if he'd had more speed he might've turned the corner on the opening kickoff rather than get caught by Josh Cribbs before doing any real damage. It'll be nice to eventually see a more permanent solution in that role.

- Lots of guys had strong games on special teams, for that matter. Nothing warms the old (freezing) heart like Chidi Iwouma and James Harrison both tearing down the field. Darnell Dinkins is a quality special teamer, but Harrison ran right through him to tackle Cribbs in the third quarter. Mike Logan knocked the daylights out of Dennis Northcutt on Pittsburgh's first punt. Coverage teams like that make it easier to take Chris Gardocki's punting.

- How does Northcutt still have an NFL job, exactly?

- The hard hitting on special teams mirrored Pittsburgh's play in the other phases. The lines mauled Cleveland all night on both sides of the ball and the back seven limited Cleveland to very few yards after the catch. That's exactly how Pittsburgh needs to play winning football. At one point at the end of the third quarter, I could have sworn that Larry Foote lifted Lawrence Vickers in the air just to serve him up for a Brett Keisel bulldozing. Foote also made a great play to drag down Jason Wright from behind on an inside trap play coming all the way around from an outside blitz. Then there was James Farrior getting his own payback on the field for Kellen Winslow's cheap shot.

- And then, there was Anthony Smith taking his starting opportunity to lay a little lumber. He popped Braylon Edwards to force Derek Anderson's first incompletion of the game (in retrospect, it's strange to think that at one early point the announcers gushed over what a great night Anderson was having); he upended Reuben Droughns on a screen pass that could have done more damage than it did; he made certain that Dinkins wasn't coming down with a pass along the sidelines with one of the more vicious shots to the back I've ever seen; and to round out the night, he put a nice lick on Cribbs on his last kick return. Picking off the lollipop from Anderson might have been the least impressive of his plays on the night.

- I'm in no hurry to see playing time taken away from Ryan Clark, though, as he's been among the better and most consistent performers on the defense all season. I don't recall Clark giving up any long touchdowns like Edwards scored in garbage time against Smith, either. It'll be nice for the team to have that kind of depth at safety since they play so much three-safety nickel, especially with Tyrone Carter signed only through this season.

- Chris Collinsworth noted at one point that "You're not gonna make much of a living running over to Joey Porter's side." He's absolutely right, and for the most part opponents don't even try to do so. I'm sure that Porter's detractors will find a way to deflect credit to other players and/or somehow turn it into a negative.

- Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game did a lot about which to feel good. Cleveland offers no great opponent, but their secondary isn't half bad. They rushed few and dropped many very frequently, and that tactic has worked against Roethlisberger in the past, causing him to force balls into coverage. Against Cleveland, though, he found the open guys and delivered balls catchable by the intended receivers and no one else. He continued to spread the ball around, as he has done all season; seven different receivers caught passes despite both starting wideouts watching the game from the sideline. These weren't dump-offs, either, as six of the seven receivers caught a ball of at least fifteen yards.

- Leigh Bodden is truly a very good young cornerback, but he ate Nate Washington's dust after a nice double-move on the long touchdown throw. Washington has been inconsistent this season, as might be expected from a second-year undrafted guy out of Tupperware University or wherever, but I love the way he catches the ball with his hands away from his body. That's better than Plaxico Burress could usually muster as the last inconsistent deep threat in Pittsburgh.

- Nice dive by Dave Zastudil when Harrison "ran into" him. I mean it … that kind of dive goes beyond what could be expected out of a great NHL or even NBA flopper. That was — dare I say it? — a soccer-worthy dive.

- If you're going to fumble the ball, Najeh Davenport, I suppose it's good that you'll at least tackle the guy looking to recover for the other team. I'll forgive you only because it warms a frozen heart to see Brodney Pool totally steamrolled on a late-game clock-killing run.

- At halftime, roaming from refreshment stand to refreshment stand in search of any remaining hot chocolate, I overheard a fan bellowing about how badly the Steelers need a new starting running back. Seriously.

- On Willie Parker's first run on the possession after his fumble, for a moment I couldn't tell that he wasn't the great Jerome Bettis. Not because anyone would ever mislabel Parker's 26-yard scamper Bettisesque, but because he's really got that get-up-head-shaking move down pat after a nice run.

- How huge was Aaron Smith's flagrant abuse of Anderson's right to personal space that got the ball back for the Steelers three plays after having lost it, up by only ten points?

- Santonio Holmes continues to justify his draft position more each week. He's starting to look half-decent returning punts, too, and Cleveland has a strong special teams unit (some might say that they have an entire roster full of special teamers). I recall earlier in the year reading a comparison of Holmes's upside to Terry Glenn, and the more I see him run routes and catch, the more I like that comparison.

- That was a veteran move by Willie McGinest to extend Pittsburgh's final drive with a pointless facemask on Davenport well short of the marker on third down. Had Cleveland made the stop to force a punt, there's a television timeout at the change of possession, and then maybe Romeo Crennell feels obliged to take his timeouts in an effort to post another meaningless score, and then the game just drags on and on in the bitter cold. No one enjoys that. The smartest players always come from the Bill Belichick camp.

- This is what I've wanted to see from the Steelers in the last half of a mostly-lost season: pride. Play each game with pride. If they play three more games with that pride, win or lose, playoffs or (probably) not, they'll have closed the season on the right kind of note. Leave it all on the field. Bow to no one. Steelers football.


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