Bettis earning another look

From the notebook of a sportswriter who may be rethinking this Jerome Bettis thing: <br><br>Give Bettis credit for forcing the issue. The Steelers certainly have to take a long, hard look at whether or not to release the fast-finishing tailback.

  • Let's do it this way. Cut Amos Zereoue and replace him first. If another back avails himself, that's when a decision should be made on the 31-year-old Bettis and his pending $3.6M base salary.

  • Zereoue is due to make $2.2M next season. That's too much for a guy aptly described by one sportswriter as a toddler running to welcome his daddy home.

  • Speaking of immaturity, does Alonzo Jackson believe his sulking helps? An otherwise cheerful young guy, the rookie second-round pick drags himself off the field behind the rest of the scout team and then sits at his locker like a beagle that's lost its master.

  • Can't blame Coach Bill Cowher for keeping Jackson on the inactive list. Something about learned behavior.

  • In nine starts, Bettis has 629 yards on 179 carries (3.5 average), which would project to a 16-start season of 1,118 yards, or 27 more yards than he gained in 1999 (3.6 avg.).

  • Is Bettis simply fattening up on the league's worst teams? Against the Chargers, Raiders, Browns and Cardinals - combined record of 14-43 (.246) -- Bettis gained 368 yards on 101 carries (3.6 avg.).

  • In six starts against losing teams, Bettis has 475 yards on 130 carries (3.7). In three starts against winning teams, he has 154 yards on 49 carries (3.1).

  • In 1999, Bettis averaged 3.9 yards per carry against losing teams and 3.4 against winning teams, so there has been a slight statistical decline.

  • Wondering about Bettis' average when Keydrick Vincent isn't tripping over his own feet and Kendall Simmons is playing up to his potential. Both, particularly the latter, were promising developments in Sunday's game against the Chargers.

  • Plaxico Burress showed signs of maturity after the game. He told reporters he went into the game for the first time treating it like a practice. "It's just football," he said, and with that put on his garish white fur coat and strode out of the locker room.

  • Seriously, it is just football. Just go play. Jeff Hartings provided insight about the lack of pressure on the team Sunday and how the coaches "didn't think about the consequences of the calls as much." It brought to mind a line delivered by a wise-cracking member of the Rooney family. "You always have a chance," he said, "because the other team has coaches, too."

  • If Burress can truly shed the perception surrounding the NFL that it's more than a game, he'll have made a tremendous leap. That's why I laugh when players mock writers. Sure, I'm a writer. And you're playing a game. No one needs either one of us.

  • Columbia grad Marcellus Wiley of the Chargers was very impressed with Bettis. "I told him 'if you retire, you're trippin'.'" And, "he had some physics going on out there." That after Wiley explained the scientific formula for force.

  • While we're on that quotes thing, Bettis said of the finale against the Ravens "this is going to have a playoff atmosphere so it will be good for us and good for the younger players to understand what the intensity is like." So if you're keeping score at home, that's Step 1) Experience the nonsense surrounding a playoff game and Step 2) Learn to block it all out and treat it like practice. Like an artist, a player must take his knowledge, strip it down and get as close to the source as possible.

  • Nothing fancy about the great Hines Ward. But how about a little home cookin' for the boy? Ward is going down to the wire in the race for the AFC receptions lead. He had six yesterday and is tied with Chad Johnson, one ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson. So couldn't the home stat-keepers and PR guys have given him a reception on that so-called lateral?

  • It was very close. They should've given him the reception and let Elias sort it out.

  • Speaking of which, the first so-called lateral on the Saints' miracle touchdown play Sunday was an illegal forward pass by at least two yards. Nobody gets that call right anymore.

  • Perhaps I've been a little too hard on Casey Hampton lately. Kimo von Oelhoffen replaced him on the nose for a play Sunday and was driven straight back into the end zone on Tomlinson's 5-yard touchdown run.

  • Hampton is the type of player who's noticed more when he's off the field, but he MUST lose some weight in order to regain the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage the way he did late last season.

  • The experts these days are screaming for an offensive tackle in the draft, but while they understand football they don't understand the concept of draft value. The No. 2 tackle - Shawn Andrews - is projected to be picked about 12th. The 373-pounder has always had weight problems and just flunked out of Arkansas because he couldn't handle a 6-hour course load. Give him a beer and he's Bluto Blutarsky, or in other words a big risk.

  • Don't worry. I'll be ever vigilant that the Steelers don't reach for a need and allow Jevon Kearse or John Tait to pass on by as they did in the 1999 draft. I'm on the case.

  • And now, dear Festivus revelers, it's come time for The Airing of Grievances. Actually, it's just a nitpick of a list but had this game been closer Jeff Reed's missed extra point, Cowher's clunky time management and Josh Miller's last punt with 15 seconds on the play clock would've been topics for much shouting today.

  • I can't say Tomlinson is better than Walter Payton, and I don't want to be too critical after seeing him only one time, but Payton played for an equally bad team and was a real handful. The biggest stats for the Steelers were Tomlinson's 8 yards on 6 catches.

  • Want a bad line? The Chargers just lost their last standing starter from opening day and their returning left tackle. Even rookie replacements have fallen by the wayside in the last few weeks. Their starting linemen will miss game No. 39 of the season next week. And the Steelers are sobbing about Marvel Smith missing 11 starts.

  • The Cleveland Browns have reached mutiny stage, or at least they're fighting each other as Robert Griffith and Quincy Morgan did last Friday. The Browns are yet another commercial for drafting solid character.

  • Speaking of which, Troy Polamalu is a Jedi knight.

  • The top hits by a Steelers defender Sunday were James Farrior's brutal shots on Tomlinson and Doug Flutie. On offense, give it to Simmons for his open-field tackle of teammate Zereoue.

  • If you're going to make a mistake, make 'em at 100 miles per hour. Simmons has that part down.

  • Did Joey Porter almost kick a live football? Now, can we please shelve the little boot?

  • That may be the best by-product of this 6-9 season. This team won't care about the cameras or the adulation or the nonsense surrounding football next year. Burress is off on the right foot. Hopefully, Porter will mature as well.

  • Some interesting Monday morning notes from columnists. Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun wondered why there was no trash-talking from the usual Ravens suspects after their blowout win Sunday in Cleveland. He hinted they might be a little uptight about their regular-season finale against the Steelers. "Bill Cowher has won so often in Baltimore they should name M&T Stadium after him," Preston printed.

  • And from Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Steelers are "playing for nothing but to take that smirk from Brian Billick's face."

  • Hurrah, and hurrah for this Cowher comment that suggests he's not looking for scapegoats anymore. "If you are going to point at an individual," he said Sunday, "point at me."

  • Now there's an artist honing in on the source.

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