Bettis leads Steelers past Eagles

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had never watched Jerome Bettis pound defenses from behind the line of scrimmage until Sunday.

And Roethlisberger came away impressed.

Bettis replaced late scratch Duce Staley and piled up 149 yards on 33 carries in the Steelers' 27-3 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"That's why he's a leader," Roethlisberger said. "That's why he's Jerome Bettis. That's why he's the mayor of the city."

The Steelers needed a big game from Bettis against the previously undefeated Eagles because Staley had injured his hamstring at the end of Friday's practice.

At Saturday's walk-through, Bettis and Verron Haynes figured their carries would increase on game day, and when Staley couldn't run without pain on Sunday, it was up to Bettis.

"It was kind of similar to that playoff game a couple years ago when Jerome got his groin shot up and we didn't know he wasn't going to play until the last minute," said fullback Dan Kreider. "It was like, 'Well, we'll go out and play with the guys we've got.' That's what they were saying in here today."

"All it was was a look in the eye, a pound of the fist and a 'let's go,'" said guard Alan Faneca. "We know what Jerome's got in the tank. Y'all are the ones, and the people out there, who are doubting Jerome, and he had a great game."

On the first drive, Bettis carried four times for 34 yards before Hines Ward scored for an early 7-0 lead.

With a 14-0 lead, Bettis carried five times for 28 yards on the third possession before Jay Riemersma's touchdown put the Steelers ahead by 21-0.

Bettis finished the half with 87 yards on 18 carries. He went over 100 yards with 5:32 left in the third quarter, and his 24-yard run early in the fourth set up the Steelers' final points. Bettis gave way to Verron Haynes (12-51) and rookie speedster Willie Parker (3-14), who closed the door on the Eagles.

The Steelers combined for 252 yards rushing on 56 carries. It was their largest rushing total since rumbling for 274 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 7, 2001. The total number of carries was only four off a 54-year-old team record.

For Bettis, it was a vindication of sorts, but only to media and fans. The organization, as Bettis pointed out, gave him a chance to leave the team when it decided it was bringing in another back. But Bettis insists the Steelers hoped he would stay.

"I understood what was going on," said Bettis. "It was one of those situations where the franchise has to think about the future. I understand that. I just wanted to be a part of this team, this city, and I didn't want to leave."

Bettis was asked if an "I told you so" was directed at those outside the organization.

"It's directed at everybody who assumes that J.B. couldn't get it done or was wondering why I'm being kept around here as a charity case," he said, and he wasn't about to stop there.

"It bothers me that people were concerned," Bettis said. "I've been getting it done for a long time. I'm not on the all-time list because I look like this, believe me. I'm on that list because I've been getting it done for a long time."

Bettis entered the season as the NFL's sixth all-time leading rusher. He now has 12,631 career rushing yards. He entered the game with only 129 yards in six games this season, but he'd rushed for 115 yards on 32 carries in the penultimate game of the 2003 season. Bettis finished 2003 with two 100-yard games in the last month, and he did so behind a makeshift offensive line.

"The offensive line is playing great," he said. "A lot of people have a tendency to put the running game on the running back. The running back is not Superman. He can't go out there and run over 10 people. You need those guys up front to pound the football and give you an opportunity.

Now, once you get to the secondary, that's the mark of a good running back, being able to make people miss, get tough yards, those types of things. That's how you judge a running back."

Bettis, at the age of 32, must still contend with being judged on a week-to-week basis.

"The people who say the career ends at 30 are the people who watch the game, not the people who play the game," he said. "Age is a number, like a shoe size. It doesn't mean anything. People in the organization looked at me and saw that at the end of the season last year I was still getting it done: 30 carries, 25 carries, putting up the numbers. They understood that. In a few months you just don't forget how to run the football. It doesn't happen like that.

"Am I the same running back I was at the age of 25? No. But I'm still a damn good running back."

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