Bettis, Steelers grind out another

<b>PITTSBURGH --</b> The physical and run-oriented Baltimore Ravens came into Heinz Field on Sunday and, in a tight game that ended 20-7 in favor of the Steelers, handed off 17 times and dropped back to pass 36 times.<br><br> It was shoddy play calling, and the Baltimore reporters called coach Brian Billick on it after the game.

"You should explain to me when we should stay with the run and not stay," Billick snapped back.

Well, Brian, it seems as if the Steelers could help you out with that one. And the Steelers ran it down the Ravens' throats Sunday with a back-up tailback.

Of course, that back-up is Jerome Bettis, the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history.

In six games as a replacement for Duce Staley, Bettis has rushed for over 100 yards each time.

Against the Ravens, Bettis carried 27 times for 117 yards to demoralize a team that prides itself on being physical at the point of attack.

The highlight was the Steelers' 14-play drive to open the second half. The Steelers threw on the first play, and they threw on the last play for a touchdown. In between, they bludgeoned the Ravens with 12 consecutive running plays for 62 of the 71 yards on the drive.

"That was a great drive, probably one of our best drives of the season," said center Jeff Hartings. Bettis set the tone on his third carry of that drive when he swept left and ran over linebacker Ray Lewis, who tried to tackle Bettis low but bounced away harmlessly on the 11-yard gain. Verron Haynes gave Bettis a break and carried four times for 28 yards before Bettis returned.

"The play where he ran over Ray, I think that was very impressive," said Haynes, who finished with a career-high 61 yards on eight carries.

"That kind of set the tone and our mindset for what we wanted to accomplish. You know we're going to take it right at you and I think our main focus all year has been running the football and that exemplified everything we were doing. He put his head down and he kind of ran over, or through, Ray and that was impressive."

Bettis wasn't done. He ran over Lewis and Edge Hartwell and Ed Reed and the rest of the reputedly physical Ravens on his way to passing Eric Dickerson on the all-time rushing list.

Bettis has 13,294 yards and, six weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, is showing no signs of letting up.

"It was another day at the office," said Bettis. "It's fun to be able to do it in these circumstances with so much on the line for this team and for this city. To be able to go out there and be able to control the game, that was pretty special."

Bettis, of course, came as close to being professionally humiliated as a future Hall of Famer can be when he was asked to take a pay cut to remain with the Steelers as Staley's back-up last off-season. Bettis accepted the back-up role, and the back-up money, because he believed the Steelers were on the verge of a special season. And he did so quietly as Staley opened the season in spectacular fashion with 707 yards in seven games.

But Staley injured his hamstring and Bettis ripped off four consecutive 100-yard games with the greatest workload of a career built on great workloads. Staley returned and Bettis quietly relinquished the starting role. Then Staley returned to the sidelines and Bettis to the starting lineup for another two 100-yard games.

If asked, Bettis would likely say he's still just keeping the spot warm. But no one asked.

"He's a class act," said Haynes. "He's just a professional, whether it be stepping back and accepting his role, as he had to do early on in the season, or just stepping up and making plays, and even handling critics. When everybody counted him out he could've blasted on the media, but he didn't. He's a class act all the way around, and I've observed all that about him and I'm taking it all in."

Bettis said he's the healthiest he's ever been going into the playoffs, and called his back-up role earlier in the season "a blessing in disguise."

His legs were fresh and pumping while the Ravens' legs were wilting, particularly at the end of the 14-play masterpiece that put the game away in the third quarter.

"It's great to be a fullback for him," said Kreider. "He just wears guys down by the end of the game and you just see defenses not wanting to tackle. The guys are just trying to avoid him. They're trying to make it look good like they're going after him and he just runs over them."

Did he see some of that Sunday from the Ravens?

"He was trucking some safeties," Kreider said. "If I was a safety and had to tackle that guy all day, I'd be looking for the easiest way possible just to trip him up."

What about Ray Lewis?

"He made a lot of tackles," Kreider said. "Fortunately they were four or five yards down the field."


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