Rossi: As Blount walked, Porter called
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Veteran Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel knows something about contributing to a successful football program. There was a time when he didn’t, though. Back then, Keisel said, Joey Porter was one of the players ready to teach.
Like any good teacher, Porter doesn’t stop reinforcing a lesson after class is dismissed. He was that way as a player. He is that way as an assistant coach.
Porter took running back LeGarrette Blount to school Monday night, offering a final lesson before a necessary expulsion of a problem child.
NFL games are hard to win. Games against lesser NFL teams had proven especially difficult for the Steelers. Heck, they arrived in the Music City having lost to the New York Jets, something that never should have happened, something that prevented the Steelers from entering their bye week on a five-game winning streak and with an 8-3 record that would had given them firm control of the AFC North and in position to challenge for a No. 2 playoff seed.
Rallying from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snag a 27-24 victory over Tennessee was something noteworthy, especially because the Steelers finished the contest, as Keisel noted, “running the same play.” It was a handoff to Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for 204 yards despite absorbing a handful of clean hits from Titans’ defenders. On one drive in the third quarter, Bell summoned his best impersonation of Franco Harris, breaking through a hole, sprinting to the sideline and tiptoeing out of bounds. By the fourth quarter, he was carrying would-be tacklers as though he was channeling Jerome Bettis.
Bell is the feature back. He has 195 carries on the season, including all 33 for the Steelers on Monday night.
Blount, who was released Tuesday, had carried the football only 65 times this season and just 28 times on the Steelers’ 4-1 run since a lousy, turning-point loss at Cleveland. Before Monday, Blount already had said he craved more carries. On Monday, Blount’s only run was to the Steelers’ bus.
Blount, fully dressed, left the locker room Monday night within 15 seconds of his last teammate coming off the field after the victory. He wasn’t around to shake Dan Rooney’s hand. Listening to his headphones, Blount coolly tried to exit stage left.
Porter would have none of it.
He peeked out of the doorway and called out to Blount, “LeGarrette, come back in.” The first call seemed to go unnoticed. The second one might have been ignored. The third caught Blount’s attention. Porter motioned for Blount to come back. Blount took off his headphones, turned his head and sounded like he said, “What do you want?”
Porter raised his voice slightly and spoke firmly.
“Get. In. Here,” Porter said. “Get. In. Here.”
Blount followed Porter’s orders but exited the locker room by himself, again, a few minutes later.
That was Blount’s final act as a Steeler. It showed him to be selfish, childish, and unworthy of coach Mike Tomlin’s trust.
After a win that seemed to stabilize Tomlin’s eighth season, one of his favorite players (Tomlin never could hide his smile when Blount would play the antagonist in the dressing room) walked out on the Steelers.
Tomlin could not let that stand. Had Blount remained a Steeler, Tomlin might have lost his team. Clearly, Blount had lost support of teammates. On Tuesday, many Steelers echoed opinions that Blount had worn out his welcome long before his “Project Runaway.”
I’d rather bring attention to Porter than Blount, because Porter was everything a Pittsburgher would want in a Steeler on Monday night.
He is no charity case as a first-year defensive assistant. He is a chest-bumping, high-pitch screaming, tone-setting presence. He exudes intensity and demands buy-in. He was this as an All-Pro outside linebacker who flattened quarterbacks, and he looked like that same guy again while trying to sack Blount’s early exit.
Porter and Blount had a history, and it wasn’t good. It dated to training camp. Porter pulled Blount, who was not practicing, off a scrum. Blount challenged Porter. That took some nerve (or ignorance) for a free-agent acquisition with Blount’s sketchy reputation to get in the face of Porter, one of the Steelers’ most passionate leaders the past two decades.
Tomlin should have realized in August the mistake he made in bringing Blount to this organization. At least Tomlin realized it Tuesday.
After their bye week, the Steelers will carry a 7-4 mark into their final five games. Win out, and they’ll probably claim the AFC North, maybe snag a first-round bye.
Blount, a bruising back, seemed suited to make an impact as turf hardens, winds stiffen and bitter cold comes with December, then January. Perhaps Porter told him that Monday night behind closed doors. Or maybe he told him a story about Bettis, a should-be Hall of Famer, willingly becoming a short-yardage back for the Steelers’ fifth title team.
Maybe I’ll never know what Porter said, but his actions spoke louder than words.
Porter is a Steeler.
Blount is just some guy who barely played.