Porter backs it up

PITTSBURGH -- After the Steelers dispatched of the Miami Dolphins, 28-17, in the NFL opener Thursday night, fearsome linebacker Joey Porter celebrated by kissing Coach Bill Cowher on the cheek. But Porter said it was less about celebrating and more about self defense.

"He was right there hugging me," Porter said. "He wouldn't let go, and I was like (smacks lips) get away from me."

That may be the way the NFL's most feared player brushes off a rare, rare moment of showing his soft side, but Porter came clean.

"It ain't no big deal," he said. "That's going to be the write-up for tomorrow but it ain't the first time. That's my guy right there. No other words can say it. I try to tell you guys that me and him was closer than what you guys think. It is what it is."

Porter had plenty to live up to, considering Sports Illustrated has him on its present cover as the NFL's most feared player, but Porter did just that Thursday night. Porter started the game with a sack, sealed it with a 42-yard interception return for the game-clinching touchdown, and closed it with another sack.

Is that what Sports Illustrated had in mind?

"I don't know," Porter said. "I go out there and try to make plays. I pride myself on making plays when I have the opportunity and that's what I was trying to do."

Porter looked like the Porter of 2002 when, on a Sunday night home opener against the Oakland Raiders, he returned two interceptions for 114 yards and had three sacks among his 88 defensive snaps.

But Porter didn't score a touchdown that night. He scored his first off an interception return Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins. He dropped back to cover Wes Welker and picked off Daunte Culpepper's pass with just over three minutes remaining. He returned it for a touchdown with the help of Brett Keisel and at 2:59 the Steelers had an insurmountable 11-point lead.

"I just wanted to make sure to shake out the receiver behind me," Porter said of his runback. "That's the first rule of thumb: get the guy they're throwing the ball to. And I knew I saw the lineman and Culpepper right there and I knew I could outrun them so after that I just made sure I held onto the ball and got there."

Porter had scored touchdowns off fumbles before, but not off an interception. He didn't even score against Oakland after returning one pick 85 yards. But with Welker killing the Steelers for a Dolphins-high 67 receiving yards, Porter put an end to the madness.

"I couldn't really see who they were trying to throw it to," he said. "I was just tried to drop back in my zone and cover where I needed to be at and I saw the ball. I had an opportunity to put my hands on it and if I put my hands on it I've got to come away with it because if I don't I hear it all week from the guys -- just like we'll get on Ike [Taylor] for dropping that easy pick that he had. He'll hear it for a whole week. I had my opportunity and I made it."

Did it make him feel like he was an H-back at Colorado State all over again?

"Man, I love having the ball in my hands," he said. "I always feel I can score with the ball in my hands and today was a good opportunity to show these guys. I've been bugging for some tight end play but they keep me on defense."

They keep him on defense because Porter can do more than catch. He had two of the Steelers' three sacks and is well on his way to his promised 10 this year. Porter has averaged 8.5 sacks since becoming the starter at right outside linebacker in 2000. He had an NFL-linebacker high of 10.5 sacks last season.

His first sack Thursday night came on first down of the Dolphins' second possession of the game. Culpepper lost six yards back to the Miami 7 on the play. Porter's second sack came on the Dolphins' last possession, two plays after his interception had sealed the game. The second sack cost Culpepper eight yards with 2:50 remaining.

"It's a good start," Porter said of his sacks. "We've got 15 games to go, but it's not about me. It's about how our team responds to adversity and today was a big day for our whole team because under tough circumstances we came up with a big victory."

Porter, of course, came into those "tough circumstances" with a chip on his shoulder. The defending champion Steelers entered their home opener with only an even chance to beat the Dolphins, according to Las Vegas linesmakers. But the Steelers prevailed.

"You guys will find something in a week or two to knock it and that's what we thrive on," Porter told reporters. "The more you guys tell us you can't do something it draws us closer together as a team to go out there and prove you wrong. It's pretty tough when you win a Super Bowl and you're not even picked to win your own division. You win the championship and you're picked third in your division. We read that type of stuff. We don't talk about it but it's in the back of our minds."


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