On a day as ugly as their uniforms, in a cold stinging rain that made it hard to run in those Dr. Seuss-on-acid socks, a very bright and beautiful thing happened to the Steelers on their way to a 27-12 bludgeoning of the Washington Redskins.
The very bright and beautiful thing had a signature moment, as bright and beautiful things will, and this one came late in the third quarter with Todd Haley's suddenly identifiable offense 21 yards from the Redskins' goal line.
It was there and then that Chris Rainey took a direct snap and surfed to his right behind a wave of pulling offensive linemen led by rookie Michael Adams, a throwback kind of play for throwback fashion day, and an indication that the Steelers still can and will run the football as they please.
"That was a play we practiced all week," Adams said with thinly veiled delight. "I was just trying to get out there and go as fast as I could so that my man [center Maurkice] Pouncey wouldn't run past me."
Bodies flew to the soggy lawn as Adams delivered one thunderous block and Pouncey another, and Rainey sliced between them, down the sideline to the Washington 2. Two plays later Ben Roethlisberger flipped his third touchdown pass and the Steelers led, 27-9.
It was the fifth scoring drive of the afternoon, and the fifth with a positively crucial detail.
The first went for 12 plays, 76 yards, and 7 minutes, five seconds of no Robert Griffin III.
The second went for five plays, 42 yards, and 2 minutes, 59 seconds of no Robert Griffin III.
The third went for 10 plays, 74 yards, and 5 minutes, 16 seconds of no Robert Griffin III.
And this scoring drive, the fifth in the Steelers' first six possessions, the one with the brilliant sweep action?
Eleven plays, 80 yards, and 6 minutes and 39 seconds of no Robert Griffin III.
Essentially, the Steelers did to RG3 just about precisely what they did to New England's Tom Brady on this same lawn a year ago Tuesday: They just didn't let him play that much.
"We knew we wanted to possess the ball and we still consider ourselves a running team, possessors of the ball," said tackle Max Starks. "Now it seems like we've finally figured out the combination for how to possess and score with it. It's like we finally have an identity. When you can do it, it's a very solid technique."
Maybe they didn't work it to the perfection plateau of last Oct. 30, when they kept Brady on the sidelines for all but 20:38 of that 25-17 skunking of the Patriots. Sunday's time of possession was a relatively modest 33 minutes plus, but the many things that Starks, Adams, Pouncey, Willie Colon, Ramon Foster and Heath Miller were doing to render Griffin mostly a spectator can serve this team beautifully if it happens to get back in touch with its own image.
"We kept running between the tight ends," Starks said. "We were not trying to cut it outside every time. The way [Jonathan] Dwyer runs and the way we block is the best thing for this offense right now.
"Obviously, when Rashard [Mendenhall] is healthy, it's a different dimension. You open up the playbook a bit more because of his versatility as a back. But when you look at Dwyer, when you look at a healthy [Isaac] Redman, those guys are more single cut-back runners and play well between the tackles."
So now Dwyer, the default position running back, has stacked consecutive 100-yard games, the first Steeler in four years to do it (Willie Parker). At precisely the same time, the Steelers have stacked consecutive victories for the first time this season.
No coincidence, and perhaps no big deal, but who doesn't love that popular breakfast menu item, the short stack?
Roethlisberger still threw 33 pitches, hitting 24 completions to nine receivers and outplaying his rookie counterpart pretty decisively, but the offense's persistently vaporous rhythms finally came together Sunday thanks to the run game. And with that bass drum-centric rhythm, the Steelers also returned to some semblance of discipline, drawing only three penalties for just 20 yards, or 30 yards fewer than in any game this season.
No coincidence there either.
"I felt like we were always close, even in games that we didn't run the ball that well," said Miller, who helped block outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson. "It's great for an offense when you establish the kind of running game that makes the safeties come up into the box. When that happens, we have enough speed on the outside around here that we can really hurt some teams."
Can they hurt the New York Football Giants next week?
Probably, but maybe they should just resolve to keep Eli Manning on a New Jersey sideline for most of the day.
Ideas that actually work.
They're bright and beautiful things.
First Published October 29, 2012 4:00 AM