Mojo seemed to be working on the side of the Steelers when, during pre-game the national anthem was sung and "Challenger," a non-releasable Bald Eagle in the care of the non-profit American Eagle Foundation, took off from his perch high up in the stadium.
Challenger is the first Bald Eagle in history trained to free fly into major sporting events during the National Anthem. Challenger soared majestically over the stadium and circled slowly, dropping to perch on his handlers arm after whiffing on his first attempt. All went well until the fireworks went off over the scoreboard and then Challenger looked like he was trying to rip the face off the guy with the friendly arm.
* On Chris Johnson's first stretch carry to the left side of the Titans' line, backside tackle and noted agitator Dave Stewart cut Ziggy Hood like he was chopping down an oak tree with feet. I knew Ziggy was in for a tough night because Stewart is as close as you can get to noted cheap shot artist Conrad Dobler in today's Roger Goodell "Soccer with shoulder pads" climate.
* After Ike Taylor got pinched on a pass interference call and the Titans converted a FG, Ike came over to the sidelines and thumped his chest in a "Put it on me, my bad" gesture to some teammates. That brought Casey Hampton over to say a few reassuring words to Ike. Here's the thing about it, when it's your guy, you gottá hang with him. Everybody goes through tough stretches in their career. But it was obvious from the get-go that the Titans were going after Ike.
* I cruised the sidelines and stumbled upon the Steelers' doctors reviewing the injury of Maurkice Pouncey in an instant replay booth without the hood. It's a nice jump forward in technology for the docs to be able to see the injury in high-def, super slo-mo, that is super ugly to watch.
* After Mike Wallace dropped the potential TD pass in the end zone, he walked by me on the sideline and I remember thinking to myself he hadn't shaken off last week's Eagles game. He had a look of abstract confusion on his face as if he couldn't understand what just happened and why. The "Turk up in the booth" was calling for Ben Roethlisberger to go right back to Wallace on the next series and give him an opportunity to get himself right.
* I love this call by Todd Haley, and I imagine the Turk loved it too. On the very next series it's a go-route and Wallace torches the backside of the Titans' secondary on an 82-yard TD catch. Joy spreads across the face of Wallace as he parks it on the bench, which quickly turns to a frown as Mike Munchak throws the challenge flag just as Mike gets some face-time with an NFL Network TV camera. Mike can't even say hi or smack talk because of the challenge and you can see he's concerned over what's happening under the hood with Ed Hochuli. Relief is the first facial expression I can detect on Mike's face after Hochuli stays with the on-field TD call.
* By the way, I suspect that the answer to Hochuli's big pipes is that he has a pair of dumbbells in the replay booth and he hits a couple of quick sets of curls while he watches the replays.
* In the second quarter Titans DE Derrick Morgan got meat on a bull rush against Marcus Gilbert. He had Gilbert on his heels after a wallop of an initial hit. Morgan felt the rush slowing so he quickly switched to a wrestling "Arm-drag," pulling the gargantuan Gilbert forward so that Marcus had to plant his right foot forward to recover. Morgan now has the corner and the outside edge of Gilbert. Marcus now has to pivot on his right foot, which he has heavily weighted because of the arm-drag and his cleats get caught in the turf. Marcus hit the deck and it was obvious he was in pain with some sort of ankle sprain.
* Rookie OT Mike Adams checked into the line-up and a few plays later he had to cut Morgan on a quick screen. Adams unfortunately has the rookie habit of cutting at the guy instead of cutting through the man. We used to have a mantra, "Stare, stare, punch and cut." That means stare in the eyes of the man you're going to cut one step, then two steps. This keeps your opponent moving forward with intent. When he approaches engagement range, throw a fake punch to keep his eyes high on you, then drive low through the man to bring him down. Works like a charm.
* I hadn't seen Tennessee do this prior in the game, but in the third quarter the Titans went to an inverted wishbone with three RB's with Chris Johnson being the tip of the triangle and deep man. Johnson ripped off 13 yards successfully and it was a tough formation on the defense. Because there's no "Strength" call due to backs on either side of the shot-gun depth Matt Hasselbeck, the defense had to play it balanced and there was a lead back either way.
* Antonio Brown displayed some awesome flexibility on a 6-yard challenged-and-overruled catch. Titans CB McCourty appeared to nearly horse-collar Brown, pulling him down diagonally to the ground. That's as serious a dose of ballistic yoga if I've ever seen it.
* Pittsburgh fans are a hardy crew. At the end of the third quarter, a yinzer ran onto the field and was quickly hog-tied by the Nashville security guys. So violently was he taken down, he was blown out of his shoes. As the mass of security guys gave him the bum's rush to the constabulary, our man waved his Terrible Towel with glee. I could only shake my head. I was standing next to an NFL Park Avenue Security big wig who told me the yinzer was the fourth such field-crasher of 2012. Where's Mike Curtis when you need him?
* Shaun Suisham was all set to let it rip and the stadium PA announcer boomed, "This is a 54-yard FG attempt!" And he punctuated the 54 with gusto, like a down-and-out actor rehearsing lines to a play that could save his career. I had never heard another stadium announcer do this in my entire playing or broadcasting career. There was no doubt in my mind he was trying to rattle the Kicking Canuck.
* "Live by the sword, die by the sword" crossed my mind as I headed out onto the field after Rob Bironas put his opportunity through the uprights. There was a look of bewilderment on so many of the guys as they left the field. Many just stood there for a few moments as if they were trying to comprehend what just happened. Joe Walsh of the Eagles described it this way: "I'm just looking for clues at the scene of the crime."