Going into the last game of the year knowing that you are out of the playoffs is a somber experience. I've had the misfortune of being a part of teams that suffered this fate. Yet there's always the calling of the game, the physical combat that you crave, the highs and lows that perpetually hound and drive you to deliver the best performance you are capable regardless of team standing. That's what draws so many of us to play this game. The beauty of having the privilege to line up on any given Sunday and measure yourself and your skill set against a like-minded combatant in a last-man-standing setting is enough to juice the batteries. And when it's all said and done, to sit on the bench side by side like Larry Foote and Casey Hampton did at the end of the game, contemplating the future and the past while in the now.
* Though there was very little buzz in the pre-game warmups, there is the ultimate excitement of making your pro debut. For Browns QB Thaddeus Lewis, he was the ever-ready bunny, full of juice and excitement. And he carried that attitude over into the game on his first series from scrimmage, completing 2 of 3 passes for 18 yards. Not bad for a guy who two weeks ago was running routes as a wide receiver and safety on the practice squad.
* I know Keenan Lewis's knee is hurting and he's trying to cowboy up for the regular-season finale. No doubt Keenan is tough and his heart was in the right place, but there's a time to close the show. When he lined up against Travis Benjamin on a second-and-seven with a cushion big enough to hand Benjamin a first down without even contesting the catch, and when he limped like Chester the one-legged deputy on "Gunsmoke," one of my favorite westerns growing up, I mentally begged Keenan to sit it out. Thankfully Keenan and I must have ESPN or something as Lewis hopped on over to the bench.
* Thad Lewis is a quick study. Third-and-six, with one back in the backfield, he's facing the Steelers' nickel with six men in the box. Foote is in James Harrisons' spot on the line of scrimmage; Harrison is walked up over the Browns' RG. Harrison fakes a delayed blitz, starts to drop while spying on Lewis, and maintains shallow depth in the middle zone. Lewis attempts to scramble late, only to see Harrison closing hard and fast and Lewis turtles up for a 2-yard loss. I'm sure he's heard Mohamed Massaquoi horror stories.
* I honestly haven't the faintest idea as to what Leonard Pope was trying to do after he snagged Ben Roethlisberger's TD pass in the second quarter. If Brett Keisel got flagged for "Unsportsmanlike conduct" after his Archer pose last week, then Pope should be flagged for "Uncoordinated conduct." Leonard, you need to go to the Hines Ward School of Dance.
* In the third quarter Thad Lewis threw a blitz-control slant for eight yards to Ben Watson. Ryan Clark put on a Rog Goodell hit clinic while lighting Watson up without using the helmet. "Don't hit the head, don't use the head" echoed in my head. Hmmm…could there really be hope that maybe change is coming?
* Well, change hasn't arrived yet. Kelvin Beachum chased Jonathan Dwyer, who made a nice cut to get outside for 12-yards. The Browns' massive DT Phil Taylor, in hot pursuit of Dwyer, "Hines Warded" Beachum, who was blindsided. There's a reason for the saying "Keep your head on a swivel." Taylor (by today's standards) cheap-shotted Beach and knocked Kelvin out of the game. From my era that was an "Attá boy" shot. Yet, I couldn't help but feel my blood pressure rising. Frontier justice had its place back in the day, and I found myself hoping that the boys would take care of their own.
* Good, on the very next play Maurkice Pouncey went after Taylor. The play after that play, Maurkice got after Taylor again. Next time take his knees, Maurkice.
* I've got nothing but good things to say about John Malecki. He is undersized, I know, and when he stands in the huddle with Doug Legursky at the other guard, the only guys with whom they can look eye-to-eye are each other. But he has come a long way from training camp and has worked hard. He played very well on this day. After the game I talked with him while he was still on the field, and he can truthfully say that he has played a high school, college and now a pro game on the turf of Heinz Field. Pretty cool I'd say.
* To quote a fellow wordsmith, Yogi Berra, it's like "Déjà vu all over again." On back-to-back pass rushes, split by the two-minute warning, the Steelers ran the exact blitz. I realize it was a rookie guard that Lawrence Timmons vandalized on both rushes. Thad Lewis, who gave way to Josh Johnson after being crumpled into exchanging DNA with the Law Dawg, had to want to walk up to the 6'7" rookie guard and smack him in the grill after the game was over. Followed by a kick in the pants from Johnson.
* After the game, I had NT Steve McLendon lined up on the field for a post-game interview, and just before go time the mike went dead. Seriously, if there was any more apropos wrap-up to this season than that, I don't know it.