Sideline view: The stuff of champions

"Wolf, who's the best defense now!" howled linebacker Larry Foote just minutes after the Steelers palpitated the Ravens. As we walked off the field at M&T Bank in Baltimore, the stadium that moments before was as raucous and loud as you're going to find ...

... in an outdoor venue, grew somber having witnessed a 92-yard disemboweling drive that gutted the Ravens.

I thought back to the pre-game warm up when the Ravens linebackers warmed up on the sideline right in front of the Steelers bench. The Steelers linebackers were on the other side of the 50-yard line, same sideline as the Ravens. A mere 20 yards separated the antagonists from each other. Police, referees, even medical people stood in between the two hostile groups. Word wars started when the "Mad" backer, Bart Scott pushed the limit and tried to engage Larry Foote. No shrinking violet himself, Foote snarled back and cooler heads prevailed. The scene must have resembled something like an afternoon Mike Vick kennel club meeting. The big dogs were out and about.

Defensive players told me after the game that the Steelers defense wanted to play the Ravens defense in a "Turkey Bowl" version of "Beyond Thunderdome" where two men enter and one man leaves. Play offense, defense, whatever, just have at it. The pre-game tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But you'd need a pig-sticker like the one Rambo used in First Blood. Yes, it was just that nasty.

Some of the things that caught my attention: the normally affable and jovial pre-game smile of Hines Ward was non-existent. He was all business. And when you know there was talk of a bounty on your head, it's best to keep yours. Talk about courage, he knew the Ravens were set to feed on his carcass. Yet there he was in the fourth quarter, making big play after big play and clipping the Ravens wings like the team's mascot, which crash landed in pre-game. The Raven's feathery mascot couldn't fly, but Hines did. Ward caught five of his team high eight passes in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. That's a money player. And when Hines almost decapitated Bart Scott on a block, I couldn't help but erupt with a cheer on the sidelines. I know, not very professional on my part, but sweet mother of pearl, it was good!

Ryan Clark must do yoga to have the lower back flexibility he displayed to haul in a Flacco deflection that Ike Taylor tipped up in the air. Ryan is a stud. The way he came up to close on a couple of tackles, and how he throws his body around, it's impressive. He has no regard for his safety, or anybody else's for that matter. He's a long way from Denver.

Lawrence Timmons is really starting to know this game. When the Ravens were driving in the fourth quarter, Timmons told me that he knew that Willis McGahee was going to try to cut block him when he blitzed. So he gave Willis the "okie doke" and infringed on the Harrison-copyrighted sack, slap-fumble, lost ball, take them out of field goal range pass rush. Now Lawrence, you must cue in Lamar Woodley so he can scoop the dad-gum thing up, okay?

How about an offensive line that had center Justin Hartwig waving his hands like he was parking 747's at O'Hare airport on Thanksgiving eve. Talking to Justin, he explained that with the constant movement of the Raven linebackers in and out of the box, and the fact that they used up to 5 linebackers with just one hefty hoofer, it created a lot of traffic problems from an identification standpoint. Yet, aside from one pick-up on a Ray Lewis sack, this was an outstanding performance by a unit that has weathered the storm to become a battle-hardened group. The double teams were the stuff of days of old when the down man ended up in the lap of the linebacker. And remember when Santonio coughed up the ball? Who but the Max Starks saved a possible Ed Reed touchdown by covering the pass. That's the way to get down the field. You want violent hits? Re-run "Juicy" Kemoeatu leading Willie Parker on the counter O and watch a head snapper on Ray Lewis that had to make Lewis contemplate the benefits of retirement. Or Max time and again swatting Terrell Suggs on the pass rush, and Willie Colon and Darnell Stapleton making Trevor "pay the" Pryce on run plays. Kudos to Larry Zierlein for keeping this group marching forward.

Aaron Smith made Willie Anderson age right before your eyes. Even jump offside because he couldn't close the door on Smith while trying to cut Aaron off on the backside. Even tried to cut Aaron, which only honked Smith off even more. I loved the "Yeah I got it right" fist pump and smile Aaron shot the sidelines on the first Ravens drive when he smelled out a screen and ran with the back to kibosh the intended screen pass. Smoking.

If this was an UFC cage match then the Raven left tackle Gaither would have been accorded points for a rear naked choke hold on the Silverback. Gaither high-hogged the whirling dervish that is James Harrison and had so many different holds on Harrison throughout the game that Gaither should be accorded a black belt for grappling proficiency. Problem is, this wasn't a cage match and where was the ref? Amazing how the back judge can see Willie Colon tug the Lewis jersey from 25 yards away but the Referee can't see a strangle from five yards. Hello?!

When you gotta do it, you do it. Ben Roethlisberger again showed why he is the magic man. Seven completions on the last drive while using the feet to get creative is a return to what that cat does best. Hoofing, making the Ravens huff and puff, and then dropping the hammer on the high hopes of Baltimore with a beautiful pass to the Santonio one. Pressure doesn't bother this man.

Didn't have a worry about that TD toss either folks. I had the trusty old wolf-cam right on the mark with a terrific angle as the play unfolded. I went under the hood "for further review" on the replay in my head. My wife says I have HD in my head (High Density). I had to adjust a few dials, but the referee just confirmed what I already knew. Touchdown.


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