Although the crowd at Heinz Field was crazed, and the players went through their warm-up paces with intensity, and the coaches milled about with their usual pre-game faces, something was missing. But I shoved aside those inner "gullet" feelings like a bad pre-game meal.
Boy, I shouldn't have.
From groundhog level, here's what I saw:
* The opening kickoff calmed the misgivings as Stefan Logan went 83 yards on a beautiful return highlighted by a great block from Andre Frazier. When guys stay on their blocks, and work like the dickens to finish those blocks, good things can happen.
* From the very first series, it became apparent that the Raiders were going to make LaMarr Woodley bring the heat, because they were not going to let James Harrison get a rush going. Max protection with tight ends in and backs chipping, James was normally fighting two Raiders. Still, the Silverback managed seven tackles and a pressure by halftime.
* Second and four from the Pittsburgh 26, Rashard Mendenhall hit a hole forged by a combo block from Justin Hartwig and Trai Essex. Mendenhall was on the giddy-yup from the git-go and ripped off a 60-yarder as clods of Heinz Field sod flew through the air. I love when a plan comes together, and that play was as well blocked as any run this season.
* In the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger threw the prettiest flag route to Santonio Holmes, who beat the pants off a Raiders DB to score on a 34-yard pass play. The timing on the route was big league in every way, including the sleight-of-hand nudge to separate from the coverage. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.
* Willie Parker was called for holding on a second and nine. Stepping up behind Big Juicy, Willie couldn't see the blitzing Raider shoot the guard-center gap and he tried to pick him up late, just barely laying a hand on him. Willie literally "blessed" the onrushing Raider like Ike Taylor tried to push Louis Murphy out of bounds. So how in the name of poor Japanese filmmaking could holding have been called on a push? To make it worse, Ben ran for 18, which sent the Steelers' Nogginologist, the eminent Dr. Joe Maroon, into an anxiety attack on the sideline.
* Still thinking that that certain something was missing, I sought mojination in a bag of multi-flavored Jolly Ranchers. Upon portaling a few in the third quarter, Woodley went cocoa loco and sacked the Big Gradkowski. So now I'm thinking the Jolly Ranchers are the missing link, and then Woodley dropped the Raiders' tight end in the flat after a one-yard gain. I'm feeling the mojo. And then I became convinced after Will Gay shot the 3 gap on third down and knocked down a pass. At this point I'm stuffing down Jolly Ranchers like they're going out of style.
* A queasy "over-sugared" nauseous feeling overtook me, but I cowboyed up and continued downing the Ranchers. It worked as Ben eyed Hines Ward split to the right in single press coverage at the Raiders' 11-yard line. Watching Hines work the sidelines of Heinz Field with press coverage is like watching Luciano Pavarotti play Rudolfo in La Boehme at the Met in New York from the front row. Raiders corner Chris Johnson tried to get in Hines' mustache, pressing him on the line of scrimmage, but Hines okie-doked him with a little facemask magic. End result was an 11-yard TD pass that put the Steelers on top and any thoughts of bad feelings between those two stars to rest.
* At this point, in the final minute, the Steelers were in trouble and so was I. My stomach gurgled on 2nd and 10 from the Steelers' 11-yard line. Both Joe Burnett and Ike Taylor signaled to the safeties and prepared to blitz. Ryan Mundy was called over to cover Joe's side over the top, but confusion reigned as Mundy was being asked to do two jobs at once. He was caught in no man's land. Touchdown. I drop kicked what was left of the bag of Ranchers. I felt like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled ball away, again. Chuck knew better from the start, and so did I.