* As I perused the tense pre-game atmosphere of the stretch period, I noticed Chiefs Coach Todd Haley watching over the players. He moved along the 50-yard line, and when he neared the Steelers' sideline he barked at a few Steelers who'd drifted over the 45 to the 47.
Yep, he runs a tight ship. I couldn't help but wonder what Haley would've thought as I watched Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor "mug" Casey Hampton and playfully pummel the Big Snack while he was being stretched by assistant strength coach Marcel Pastoor. I doubt Haley would've found humor in that.
* The biggest task for today's game, I felt, was that a player had to make his opponent better in his mind than that player showed on tape. I watched Kansas City, and not many of the Chiefs jumped off the tape. But I've played in enough games where the opponent musters the wherewithal to play a great game when your own amp-age might be on low. So, as a matter of record, I went public with my misgivings about this game on the bus ride from the airport to the K.C. hotel. I worried that too many players might have a low vibe heading into the game. Yet, my buddy Tunch cracked, "Come on, you're Max Starks. Are you going to be afraid of a Studebaker? It's not even a Chevy!"
* The look of incredulity on the players' and coaches' faces was offset by the "Here we go again" expression on the sidelines as Jamaal Charles returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Charles crossed the field, and from groundhog view it appeared that panic had set in. Paralysis by analysis overcame a couple of Steelers who looked like deer in the proverbial headlights upon reaching the impact zone. Players at this point, I think, are trying to overcompensate. It was not a lack of effort, but more a lack of trust this time as players crossed each other's lane assignments. You have to trust the man next to you and make sure that you don't let your teammate down.
* In the Steelers' first series, Mike Wallace lined up wide and then came in jet motion toward Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun. It was a reverse that turned out to be one of the longest handoffs in the history of the NFL. It took forever before Ben finally passed the rock off. I'm guessing that either Ben snapped the ball with Mike too far away from the handoff point, or it was a red herring early in the game to keep the Chiefs' backside at home. Still, the Steelers picked up 5 yards.
* In the Steelers' second offensive series, Wallace was stripped by Brandon Flowers after a sizable gain. My stomach started churning, but I realized that I hadn't opened my bag of peanut M&M's.
* In the second quarter, DE Nick Eason showed his run-stuffing abilities on two plays. Nick has limitations, but in the context of his job description he's doing good work.
* Casey Hampton doesn't get singled much in pass pro on first down, but when he does he gets a great rush. Hamp gobbled up Matt Cassel for a 9-yard loss in the second quarter.
* After emerging from halftime with a 17-7 lead, it appeared the Steelers had the game in hand. Three plays into the third quarter, my stomach began churning again because Ben went over the middle to the normally sure-handed Heath Miller and Tunch's pal Andy Studebaker – the guy Todd Haley calls "Venice Beach" for his physique – intercepted a ricochet.
* The holding call on Willie Colon was garbage. Tamba Hali swatted to the outside shoulder of Willie, and, because his body lean was so great, Hali fell forward into Colon's outside arm. Essentially, Willie was caught "holding the bag." Colon had one arm stretched for a moment across Hali's chest area, but he immediately released. But this is the exact veteran pass-rush maneuver – officials at training camp explained to James Harrison – that would not result in a holding call this season. Yet, the officials fell for it in Hali's case.
* This call had a direct effect two plays later: Steelers in the shotgun, Colon sets to overprotect the outside corner because Hali had been hitting it hard, and Hali responds with an inside uppercut because Willie is now conscious of the holding call. Hali got the inside and whacked Ben while he was throwing the ball. The errant throw went yet again to Tunch's buddy, and Studebaker returned it 94 yards.
* I know it sounds like sour grapes, but when Cassel hooked up for two yards with Charles to tie the score at 24-24, it was a flagrant pick play. The 6'8" TE, Leonard Pope, drove inside and blocked James Farrior while Charles trailed behind. Pope didn't screen him, but he blocked him before Cassel threw the ball. It was as blatant as the nose on my face.
* Hearts were beating aplenty when Big Ben took one in the gourd in overtime. He was smacked pretty hard, but I saw him in the locker room afterward and he looked OK.
* Charlie Batch is the consummate pro. Standing on the sideline all day, he trotted onto the field for the biggest series of the game and right out of the gate, on 2nd and 13, zinged one in to Santonio Holmes for a first down. Tone said later that he knew Charlie was going to him from the coverage. The corner was off and the safety was back so the post was there and so was the ball. That takes nerves of steel, folks.
* Unfortunately, that was all Charlie could muster as the Steelers failed to convert on 3rd and 2. Penetration kills, and in this instance the pulling guard was tripped up by a penetrating Chief. The Steelers were banking on man coverage, but they didn't get it. Mewelde Moore had nowhere to go.
* I have a hard time understanding a miscommunication among the defensive backs on the overtime play in which Chris Chambers went 61 yards, but I've been there, miscommunicated that, so I shall cast no stones. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!