Pregame. Let me go get this out the way: My buddy had lower level tickets to this game but instead of making the two-hour, 32-mile journey, I opted for the couch, the 42-inch plasma, and a bucket of Modelo Especial (it was on sale). Plus, I'm not all that thrilled by the idea of giving Dan Snyder any money. He seems to be doing fine without my help.
7:32 p.m. I'm listening to the Steelers pregame show on the internets and watching the Redskins Comcast SportsNet show on the teevees. Remember ESPN's Sunday night crew from two seasons ago: Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire and Mike Patrick? Well, Maguire is now doing college football for ABC, and Theismann and Patrick are hosting the CSN pregame. Man, a lot can change in two years … well, except that Theismann is still unbearable and Patrick's microphone is still set to "yell."
7:50 p.m. Great news, not only is Lawrence Timmons playing, but Bill Hillgrove just noted that the Steelers' first-round pick can throw a football 60 yards in the air. That should come in handy when Timmons is relegated to halftime entertainer once he re-injures his groin. I'm kidding, people, I think Timmons will be fine (crosses fingers). Enough small talk, let's get to this:
First quarter, 8:08 p.m. Skippy Reed puts the opening kick in the end zone -- something he's not known for, but ROBO-PUNTER just rubs off on people -- and guess who makes the special teams tackle at the 20? That's right, Carey Davis. All the talk about Dan Kreider being on the bubble is a little troublesome, and I'll just add this: It's swell that Davis blocked well in the Kreider's role last week, but maybe we should slow up on phasing out the traditional fullback position altogether, you know, since Danny's currently one of the best blockers on the team.
8:12 p.m. For some reason, I'm a little more into this game than the previous preseason affairs. Maybe it's because it's Week 3 and jobs will be decided, or maybe it's because we're one week closer to the regular season, or maybe it's because I hate the Redskins. Whatever, I really shouldn't be this nervous, but, well, I am. Embarrassing? Sure, but certainly not the most embarrassing thing I'll do this year. Remember, I'm the guy who almost accidentally killed himself.
Huh, the Redskins, one of the worst offenses on the planet, have just converted two third-and-longs. And while I don't want to be an alarmist, their offensive line is atrocious … but apparently not so atrocious as to allow a Steelers' pass rush. Last week, this wouldn't even have registered on the "Things to Worry About" radar, but like I said, I'm a little amped up for this game. And what kind of Steelers fan would I be if I weren't worried about something?
8:14 p.m. Thank God for Brandon Lloyd. After a nice pass from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss for a first down, the 'Skins roll out right looking for Lloyd and Ryan Clark breaks up the pass. In true Brandon Lloyd fashion, he gets up begging for a flag. Hmm, I wonder if that's something they teach wideouts in San Francisco, because I remember seeing that somewhere else.
8:18 p.m. Hi, Jason Campbell, my name is LaMarr Woodley, I'll be the guy throwin' your ass for a loss tonight. Tunch Ilkin was talking about it during pregame, but he thinks Woodley's gotten better as training camp progressed. I'll miss Joey Porter, his tenacity and his leadership, but I'm willing to defer to the Steelers' front office on this one. Especially after seeing Woodley not only wreak havoc in the backfield, but after watching him drop into coverage. (I'm coming off the ledge now…)
8:24 p.m. On the Steelers' first possession, they go four and out (the first play of the series was a nifty Big Ben pass to Hines Ward), but a couple of things to note: Sean Mahan doesn't have any trouble getting to the second level, but -- and this isn't really news, but you can't say it enough -- the pass-blocking makes me queasy. On the upside, Daniel Sepulveda launched a 58-yard punt … with no return. Gotta love that.
8:31 p.m. Oh boy, Brett Keisel just pulled a Kimo … and I just hope Jason Campbell is okay. I'm listening to the Redskins telecast and Mike Patrick emphasized that Keisel didn't do it intentionally and predictably, Theismann grumbles but eventually agrees. It's good to see Campbell walking off the field, and Keisel shaking his hand as he makes his way to the sidelines. Let's hope that's the last low hit of the year.
Meanwhile, 87-year-old Todd Collins comes in and promptly hits Chris Cooley. This is seems like Cooley's 20th reception tonight. Yeah, I don't know, maybe somebody should cover that wild-haired maniac. Just a thought.
8:37 p.m. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Brandon Lloyd catches a touchdown pass. Bryant McFadden was in coverage, but to be fair, the Steelers rushed three, and Collins had about ten seconds to make up his mind in the pocket.
8:44 p.m. Wow, this Pittsburgh team looks a lot like the 2006 version that won eight games. I don't want to belabor the point -- I realize it's preseason -- but they are getting outplayed by a team that won five games last year. And not only that, they did virtually nothing to get better this off-season. On 2nd and 6, Roethlisberger bobbled the snap, before getting the ball to Willie Parker for a three-yard gain, and a play later, the Steelers run a slip screen to Hines Ward for a two-yard loss. Okay, Mike Mularkey, show yourself.
Second quarter, 8:49 p.m. Look at that, the 'Skins convert another third down. They're 6 of 7 tonight. And this comes after Sepulveda almost had a punt blocked. But because ROBO-PUNTER isn't human, he still managed to kick it 48 yards.
8:51 p.m. Well, I think Deshea Townsend is making a case for why he's the starter. On first down, he comes on a corner blitz and tackles Derrick Blaylock behind the line of scrimmage. A play later, he almost gets a pick on a short gain, and on third down, he blitzes again, and sacks Collins. See, I can write positive things about Pittsburgh. (Patrick just reported that Campbell's got a sprain, and the camera's show him walking around the 'Skins' bench. Thank you, Baby Jesus.)
8:54 p.m. And I think we have our early nominee for play of the game. With Pittsburgh's offensive starters still in the lineup for the third series, Big Ben drops back to pass. Trai Essex, in for Marvel Smith at left tackle, seemingly trips over the paint on the hashmarks. That allows defensive end Andre Carter a free run at Roethlisberger. Thankfully, he scrambles right, but unfortunately, he doesn't throw the ball away. When Joe Theismann makes a good point -- "Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to learn that this is a preseason game" -- it's probably time to re-evaluate things.
8:56 p.m. Let me just say that I am shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to see the Steelers call a screen pass on 3rd and long. Didn't see that coming. There is a bright spot, though: Sepulveda is getting plenty of work, and Carey Davis smacks Washington's Mike Espy silly on the return.
So through a quarter and some change, the highlight for the Steelers have been Davis and Sepulveda. A close third is that nobody's gotten hurt. Nice.
9:01 p.m. I'll file this under "Beating a dead horse." Chris Cooley caught another pass … for another Redskins third-down conversion. Unofficially, that's 7 of 8. Suh-weet.
9:03 p.m. Yay Ryan Clark. On third down, the Steelers rush four and Clark comes in late to wrap up Collins. I know Dick LeBeau wants to keep thing vanilla during the preseason, but for me, there's nothing more demoralizing than watching the Redskins march up and down the field like they're actually good. So this is a good thing. On the ensuing punt, Willie Reid is nailed as soon as he makes the catch, but the fact that he hasn't fumbled/muffed/whiffed is progress. Yep, it's come to that.
9:10 p.m. It takes four tries, but the Steelers' offense finally looks to be clicking. After a Big Ben scramble (I could do without those), the team goes no-huddle … and Roethlisberger fumbles the snap (Kordell Stewart memories come flooding back). After a false start by Chris Kemoeatu and on 2nd and 21 Pittsburgh runs the patented Verron Haynes draw play. Yikes. The more things change, the more … wait a second.
On 3rd and forever, with Ben in the shotgun, the 'Skins send eight guys. Roethlisberger channels the 2006 Week 17 Bengals game, hits Santonio Holmes on a quick slant, and 30 yards later the Steelers are in business. It took 28 minutes, but Pittsburgh is finally showing signs of life.
9:15 p.m. On first down from Washington's 31-yard-line, the Steelers run another patented Verron Haynes draw play. And this time, it goes for 11 yards. I don't know what's more remarkable, that the 'Skins didn't see this coming, or that the Steelers continue to go to the well on this one. When Bruce Arians goes vanilla on the play calling, he's not kidding, I guess.
As Pittsburgh works in the red zone, one name pops up play after play: Washington linebacker Rocky McIntosh. He was a second-round pick in '06 and he didn't see the field until late in the year because he was slow to pick up the defense. According to assistant coach-defense Gregg Williams, nobody on the 'Skins worked harder this off-season than McIntosh, and the dude's playing like it. I mention this because this is what we should hope for with the Steelers' 2007 first-round pick. I know Pittsburgh fans aren't a patient bunch, but to see the progress McIntosh has made in the last year is jaw-dropping.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh stalls inside the 10, Washington brings it like it's 2004 or 2005, and Skippy Reed converts a three-pointer right before the half. That's it for the first-teamers. It coulda been worse, I suppose, but at least the team finished strong (at least until they got inside the red zone, anyway).
Third quarter, 9:42 p.m. I'm looking at the halftime stats, and they were a lot closer than I expected. The Steelers had 37 rushing yards, and 87 passing yards, and the Redskins had 28 and 109. Washington had 10 first downs (three more than Pittsburgh), and converted 7 of 10 third downs (the Steelers were 2 of 6). But that Steelers defense I was bellyaching about earlier recorded three first-half sacks. See, folks, it's about seeing the silver linings. Okay, new half, new ballgame.
9:44 p.m. And we have our first Nate Washington sighting. On third down, he catches a pass at the sticks and looks smooth doing so. Too bad he's about two feet short and it's fourth down. Can't have everything, I guess.
9:50 p.m. Pittsburgh's second-team defense goes three-and-out … but commits a defensive holding penalty on third and long. Solid.
9:55 p.m. Just like the first two quarters, Pittsburgh's defense has no trouble getting to third down, but just like the Tim Lewis era, getting off the field is an issue. Todd freakin' Collins just completed a 20-yard pass to 18th-string tight end Todd Yoder … on third down. Ugh. Three plays, later, the Steelers miraculously get a stop, but Shaun Suisham nails a 48-yarder.
9:59 p.m. I see Pittsburgh has given up -- Ricardo Colclough is back for the kickoff. I'm kidding, and I should mention that either during my two-day camp visit, I saw Coke field both punts and kicks flawlessly … and right on cue, he busts one down the sideline. Of course, there were offsetting penalties on the play so it's a do-over, but after last year's train wreck, this, if anything, is encouraging.
10:07 p.m. After a first down (no, really), Chaz Batch hits Nate Washington on a quick pass and he handles it nicely, and stiff-arms the defender for good measure. Maybe Nate's a little more focused this week, or maybe he's tired of hearing about Walter Young. Whatever, it's good to see.
Well, that was short-lived. Three plays later, Trai Essex is summarily abused by some dude named Chris Wilson -- out of Northwood University (where?) -- and down goes Batch. Luckily, the 'Skins were offsides, so it doesn't count … although I'm guessing that doesn't lessen the pain Chaz feels in his face after getting smacked around. On 3rd and 1, Arians doesn't do Batch any favors by calling a quarterback sneak. Thanks, BA.
10:12 p.m. I know it was a personnel foul, but Kemoeatu hand-punching Chris Wilson's helmet right off his head was pretty impressive. And I'm pretty sure Wilson won't want any more of Kemoeatu for the rest of the night.
10:15 p.m. Nice three-play sequence after the penalty. On 1st and 25, Haynes runs for 12; on second down, Davis catches an 8-yard pass, and does the same a play later. Both running backs are fighting for a roster spot, and both have looked good tonight. I wonder if either can play on the offensive line.
10:16 p.m. You know, this could be the drive of the game for Pittsburgh. After the first down, Chaz drops back, and thanks to a nice Matt Spaeth-Willie Colon double-team, he hits Washington on a deep crossing pattern, good for 33 yards.
Fourth quarter, 10:22 p.m. Uh, check that. After a holding penalty, a scramble, and a predictable screen pass that went nowhere, the Steelers have to settle for a field goal … again.
10:28 p.m. It might be the fourth quarter, but there are a handful of guys fighting for two or three roster spots. On 3rd and 6, safety Grant Mason stuffs tight end Jake Norton a yard from the sticks. As Norton tries to reach for a first down, Clint Kriewaldt knocks the ball loose, and Colclough pounces on the fumble. And after the play, Mike Tomlin gives Mason a friendly head slap to recognize his effort. Good stuff.
10:35 p.m. Pittsburgh certainly doesn't have any trouble getting in the red zone, but once they're there, the gears start grinding. After a little Brian St. Pierre-to-John Kuhn magic to extend the drive earlier, a few Kevan Barlow runs for minimal gain, and a fade pass to Dallas Baker that didn't quite work out, the Steelers are forced to kick. Connor Hughes gets Pittsburgh within a point, but St. Pierre continues to make a case for the team carrying three quarterbacks on the final 53.
10: 42 p.m. Just like Haynes, Davis and St. Pierre, William Gay is also making a case for a roster spot. You have to think he's in pretty good position given his training camp, but he made a nice tackle on the kickoff following the field goal, and he should've had a pick on a third-down Mark Brunell pass. The ball clanked off his hands, sure, but at least he was in position to make a play. Better than having great hands and not being able to cover anybody, though I don't think that's ever been a problem for Steelers cornerbacks … well, the good hands part, anyway.
10: 43 p.m. Gary Russell sees his first action of the night, and he goes for six yards. And he goes for five a play later. It's going to be tough to keep him off the team. Just like it was scripted, two plays later, on 3rd and 1, Russell gets the ball, gets hit at the line of scrimmage, and falls forward for the first down.
10:48 p.m. Another 3rd and 1, and this time St. Pierre zips a pass across the middle to Willie Reid who goes for 15 down to the 'Skins' 3-yard line. Pittsburgh's effort has been uneven tonight -- particularly among the first team -- but the wideouts are in midseason form. All of them.
Four times in the red zone -- this time from the three -- and the Steelers can't find the end zone. In the scheme of things, it's good that Pittsburgh has been able to move the ball for most of the night, but unless the 2007 Steelers defense is just as good as the 2000 Ravens unit, they'll need to start actually scoring some touchdowns at some point. But, yes, I realize that it's only the preseason. Oh, Hughes converts a chip shot to give Pittsburgh the lead.
11:00 p.m. And we have a Dee Brown sighting -- he's now Washington's fourth-string kick returner. Remember that dude? He was battling Fast Willie for the running back job in 2004. At the time, I remember liking Brown and hoping he'd make the team. Thank God nobody takes me seriously.
11:02 p.m. With less than a minute to go in the game, the 'Skins are winging it all over the yard. I notice No. 94 in the game for the Steelers. That's right, folks, it's Larry Timmons returning to the game after two early plays. He's on the field and he seems to be moving pretty well.
Holy crap. On 4th and a mile, Brunell hits some guy who won't likely be with the team in a week for a first down around the Steelers' 30-yard line. Two plays later, Brunell goes to the end zone, and again, Gay is step-for-step with his man, Burl Toler, who decides offensive pass interference is a good idea.
11:09 p.m. And that's that. Gay, who's this year's Anthony Smith, collects his second interception of the preseason with three seconds left in the game.
The Steelers looked discombobulated early, but the second- and third-teamers rallied to pull out the victory. Okay, it's preseason and these games will be forgotten soon enough. But after last year's effort -- which included an oh-fer in the preseason -- I'll take it. And so too will Mike Tomlin, I imagine.
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