Kovacevic: Give Dwyer the ball, already
Emmanuel Sanders bolted off the Steelers' line on a run-blocking assignment, and he had a pretty good clue that his role in the play might be pivotal when not one but two Redskins converged upon him from opposite sides.
A Manny sandwich, if you will.
“I just wanted to get a little push, maybe just get out of there,” the wispy wide receiver would recall later with a laugh.
What Sanders didn't fully grasp was why those defenders were bearing down on him.
Nor why a third party suddenly slammed him from behind.
Then he got it.
“That's Jonathan Dwyer, man. That's what he does. No one's going to stop him. I know I'm not going to stop him.”
It's hard to imagine who could right now, other than Mike Tomlin. But I just can't see that happening.
Not when Dwyer pinballed off Sanders on that third-quarter play for a 10-yard gain that brought an enthusiastic huzzah from Tomlin on the sideline.
Not when Dwyer would pile up 107 yards on 17 carries.
Not when he had 122 the week before in Cincinnati — including an astounding 114 after contact — and his back-to-back 100-yard outputs are the Steelers' first since Willie Parker in September 2008.
Not when he's averaging an absurd 5.16 yards per carry.
Not when he's got three 100-yard games despite just 83 career carries.
Not when, each of the past two weeks, he's given the team his biggest runs in the fourth quarter to help protect leads.
Not when …
Well, you get the idea.
With all due respect to Rashard Mendenhall, who made a 74-yard return from knee surgery two weeks ago and is still only 25, Dwyer's got to be the starter.
Only one technicality remains: Tomlin cited Dwyer in his postgame injury report as having a strained right quad. And even though Dwyer shrugged it off — “I'm fine,” he said — the coach clung to that when asked if Dwyer has earned being named the starter.
"He's answered the call and taken advantage of the opportunity, and that's what we expect from all our young people,” Tomlin replied. “He did the job today but, obviously, I read his name here on the list of injuries, so I'm not going to speak too soon on that. We'll check the health of all the people involved.”
Pressed further for an answer, Tomlin came back, “I'll see what they look like next week. You're not getting it today.”
That's fair, especially given that Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are banged up. But at the soonest clean bill for Dwyer, which presumably will come well before the trip to face the New York Giants next week, he's got to be the man.
For now, anyway.
It's too soon to go overboard. Dwyer, 23, lasted until the sixth round out of Georgia Tech, and I'd like to think the Steelers' coaches knew what they were doing in barely using him his first two seasons in the NFL.
But it's not too soon to applaud what Dwyer's done of late. Not just for his own standing but also the Steelers'. They were flagging along at 2-3, flailing for answers in all facets until these past two games. And I dare say he's been primarily responsible for picking them up when it was needed the most.
Listen to the locker room, and it's easy to tell they believe in the kid.
“Jonathan's running is something we've fed off, no question,” left tackle Max Starks said. “You can tell he's getting more comfortable with us, he's reading off the linebackers, and he's getting through. We're learning how to work off him, too.”
“He just runs hard,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He runs with a passion, and he's fun to watch.”
Dwyer, as soft-spoken as they come, wasn't about to boast.
For one, he was humbled — maybe humiliated — when Tomlin was so angry over a fumble in Oakland that he wrote Dwyer's name on the locker room chalkboard to announce he wouldn't be playing the following week.
For another, if you think seeing him run like a mini-Bus has been jarring, you should have seen his face upon being ushered for the first time into Heinz Field's news conference room, a place generally reserved for Tomlin and the biggest stars.
Has anyone ever made a faster move from inactive list to interview room?
Better question: Does Dwyer think he deserves to start?
“I'm not going to sit here and talk about that,” he said. “I'm going to do what I have to do to help us win. In all reality, I'm just trying to solidify myself around here and around the league.”
Here's betting Tom Coughlin will have a pretty good grip on what Dwyer can do.
And here's hoping Tomlin gets it, too.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.