It was almost as if I was watching a movie being played at a faster rate of speed. Again and again the Steelers' defense turned away the Washington Redskins' offense. The Steelers' pass rush was ferocious, the coverage in the secondary suffocating, and the joy on the Steelers' sidelines intoxicating.
I was on the sidelines at Fedex Field in Washington D.C., and as the fourth quarter of the game between the Redskins and the Steelers ran down, Steelers fans began moving towards the lower seats in the stadium while the retreating Redskin fans ran for their parked cars. Terrible Towels were out in force and the players relished every moment, as did the fans. It was an indescribable love fest between a city and its football team, a heritage and way of life. Steelers Nation on display in the country's capitol before the eyes of the nation on the eve of an election; Leftwich for President anyone?
It was a stunning second half that saw a little bit of swagger from an offensive line that emerged at the right time. Add to that the arrival of Santonio Holmes after somebody else wore his jersey in the first half, another Nate Washington electrifier, and a superb Byron Leftwich second half performance. But really, this game was all about a defense that played faster, bigger, smarter, and more ferocious than anybody else's defense. At ground level, there were plays that left me shaking my head.
Watching James Harrison going berserk on the pass rush hunt with Redskins tackle Chris Samuels was like watching an episode of "Wild Kingdom." Sometimes Dick LeBeau in sub packages would position Harrison in an inside linebacker spot and try to get a push from the inside to disrupt that West Coast timing up the middle. Harrison would get a running start at one of the guards or center and apparently exchange DNA molecules, so forceful was the bang! Harrison seemed as if he was conducting his own particle-collider test. Harrison once planted Portis on his backside like he was trying to drive him through the center of the earth to China in a display of vintage tackling. You don't see many tackles like that anymore.
Sheez Louise! Now I'm watching the medical staff yank and twist Heath Miller's ankle after he gimped off. If he didn't have an ankle sprain before this, he might well have one now! I say this in jest, because the Steelers' medical team is without peer in the NFL. Losing Miller would be a real blow because he's the best blocker among the tight ends. With Willie Parker just getting back into the swing of things, this would be a setback to the running game.
LaMarr Woodley continues to grow as a pass rusher. He's got the bull rush down, and now he's getting the dip and rip consistently on the edge like Harrison. Unlike James, LaMarr gets a dip before he throws his rip, but in the end it's the same, sack or a QB pressure.
If there's any further evidence that the NFL needs to address the rules on hitting the quarterback, then James Farrior's hit on Jason Campbell would make for some great evidence. Just because two helmets touch doesn't mean there was a hit.
Ike Taylor's play on a pass to Santana Moss near the end zone was a remarkable display of speed and skill. Ike's ability to close on the ball when it seemed that Campbell to Moss would rack up six sucked the oxygen right out of the bench, only to burst like wildfire in cheers from all the guys hanging on the sidelines. Even the guy holding one of those dish microphones on the sideline was cheering.
I could tell the offense was getting close. Though they weren't racking up any points, the blocking schemes were solid. The Steelers' offensive line had their miscues, but Redskins defenders were moving backwards. Believe me, the hogs were physical. The fly in the ointment was Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher. He was playing "peek a boo" with the Steelers' double teams. Fletcher is extremely smart and Harrison-short. Though not as powerful as the Silverback, he nonetheless kept the Steelers' rushing game from grounding and pounding another 100-yard rushing performance.
In the first half, Holmes just didn't look like himself at all. A couple of uncharacteristic drops and some poor passes from Ben killed potential drives. But Santonio's mere presence altered the Redskins' coverage schemes, and that's when Nate Washington hooked up big with Leftwich to start the second half. Give me anyone one on one with Nate, while Santonio or Hines draws double coverage, and I'm going to Nate.
The catalyst behind the Steeler's surge was Andre Frazier reading a widening wingback and then cutting loose to block the punt. Mudville – A.K.A. the Steelers' bench area -- erupted in energy sufficient to fly the Steelers charter back home. Big plays like that can turn a game around and it did this night.
The holding call on Max Starks on the follow-up drive to the blocked punt was horrendous. It's getting so that you can't mall a guy out there anymore without drawing some laundry.
Hines Ward is woodpecker-lips tough. Some of the shots he's taking on the field are unbelievable. Hats are off to a real tough guy who proves it over and over, bounty or not.
The play that summarized the game for me was late in the fourth quarter as the Redskins threatened. On third down, Ike and maybe Troy Polamalu blitzed off the corner and slot areas. Portis ran a wheel route out to the sideline on that side. The defensive line stunted to draw the O-line to the inside and make for a short corner for the blitzers. James Farrior faked a blitz and dropped into coverage. Tyrone Carter rolled over from the top and arrived when Portis caught the ball and Carter clobbered him for a next to nothing gain. From field level it initially looked like Portis would walk into the end zone. The speed in which the defense adjusted was indescribable. I was shaking my head, and rubbing my eyes to make sure I saw what I saw. Yep, I did.