So much of football is about psychology. As important as it is to overcome your opponent physically, it is also a matter of attacking their will to compete. We've all seen games turn on an interception, a big hit, a big play on offense where one side is energized and the other deflated. In my opinion this game, and perhaps this season (it remains to be seen) may have turned on a pancake block.
There were a number of positive contributors to the Steelers' victory over the Bengals. As Neal has pointed out in his Winners and Losers piece, Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis busted out of the doghouse as they shutdown Cincinnati's receivers. Rookies Mike Adams and Chris Rainey acquitted themselves well, with Rainey having a couple of strong kickoff returns and scoring his first NFL touchdown. Jonathan Dwyer revived the talk about quality depth at the running back position with a hundred yard performance, easily the best from this unit this season despite being seriously depleted due to injury. LaMarr Woodley contributed a timely interception. Ben, Heath and AB were status quo, which is to say great. Manny Sanders made a few quality catches and a certain Emmy nomination when he went down with what seemed to be a career ending injury only to demonstrate miraculous healing abilities and grit, returning to the game one play later. Mike Wallace helpfully chipped in as well, providing haters something to chew on over what promises to be a long grueling week of generally good news.
But for me the top moment of this game occurred when Willie Colon punked Vontaze Burfick. And make no mistake about it, I am not exaggerating even a little bit. Based upon some the comments I saw last night this might have flown over the heads of a few of you. Let me try to explain.
I used to play football (high school, a little college), and I was a defensive player. Defenders channel anarchy and nilhilism. We are about destroying things; the carefully conceived plans and schemes of the opposing offense and, especially, the human beings assigned to achieve these things. The mentality is that of a marauding horde; defeat the enemy and their plans and if you can defile their women, children and livestock in the process, all the better. I don't know if Mechem ever played football, but you can be certain that if he did he played defense. Fortune flows back and forth in football. I have had my glorious moments and I have been beaten, concussed and hospitalized. But the one thing I can proudly say I never allowed myself to be pancaked. Or if I did my mind had the good sense of blocking the memory. Being pancaked is not about being beaten, it is about being dominated and humiliated. It can be a huge psychological blow to a player, and by extension the unit and the team. As Neal said accurately if somewhat crudely, it establishes "who's the bitch in this relationship". It is the football equivalent of being pimp slapped. There is something of a non football analog to this, at least in the culture of the Pittsburgh that I grew up in. When guys got into fights there would be a lot of flailing and scuffling until one person got leverage, lifted his opponent and slammed them to the ground. A big 'Ooooo' came from the spectators. The fight may actually continue for some time but in most cases a winner had already been determined.
Let's review the moment. First, let's be clear that the play was already over when Colon slammed Burfick on his back. The other players are standing around as is the case when the whistle is blown. So let's not have any of this he was just playing through to the whistle stuff. At that moment Willie had enough of Burflck's punk a** and decided to go Bronx, New York on him. Ever been to The Bronx (that is how it is termed, like The U or The Ohio State University)? Parts of it look like Berlin in the spring of 1945. For the young people reading this who have been deprived of a proper social studies education, in the spring of '45 the Red Army was closing in on Berlin as payback for Hitler waging genocide on the Soviet Union. Hitler defiantly vowed that the German people would fight to the end. Marshall Zukov, the Soviet Commander said "I was hoping you would say that" or words to that effect and the massacrin' and rapin' began. Hitler would then marry his mistress, shoot his dog (not cool), watch the mistress take cyanide and then shoot himself in the head. The bodies would be burned. The point is that you can get that kind of vibe hanging around The Bronx. So Willie has slammed Burfick to the ground which is bad enough, but Colon's nowhere near being through. Willie decides he going to bury Burfick without the benefit of a shovel, and he's sort of dry humping him at the same time. I imagine the censors at NBC are fainting because this isn't cable. What we're witnessing is one of those over the top Mechem Hate Guide moments actually coming to life. Colon is violating this rookie, and by extension the Bengals and the state of Ohio on national television. With all due respect to Deebo, Joey Porter, Greg Lloyd, Jack Lambert and others, you have to go back to Mean Joe Greene to find a moment where such open abuse of an opponent was on display.
I may be a little off on the sequence of events but everything changes after that. Whatever mojo the Bengals had was pretty much gone. Pittsburgh started channeling Steelers 1.0 on both offense and defense. Dwyer becomes Bettis or John Henry Johnson, Rainey becomes Willie Parker, Heath remains Heath, Lewis becomes JT Thomas. You get the idea.
We often forget that teams are new creations each and every year regardless of composition of personnel. A defining moment for a team can be something relatively small, such as a pancake block delivered at just the right moment. I am wondering now if Colon is the reason that the defense has struggled so much this year. Remember there was a huge fight in training camp when Willie pancaked Lawrence Timmons. If it was anything like last night, well that would explain a great deal wouldn't it? As for Burfick? He continued to play well for the remainder of the evening, but he's a rookie and may not have realized 'punk' may be part of his name for the rest of his career. When he watches the film today and the coaches and his teammates do that 'Ooooo' thing they may have to put him on suicide watch.
Thank you Willie. You get my vote for game MVP.