It was like a flashback to 2001. Who said these guys couldn't get it done anymore?
"Sometimes as a competitor when you hear little things, you take them to heart," said Stewart, who completed 22-of-26 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown and also ran the ball for another 40 yards. "Sometimes it becomes personal. When you get the opportunity, you want to prove that you can still get it done."
For Stewart, Bettis and the team's much-maligned defense things had gotten personal. For Stewart, there were those who doubted he could put together a strong game after being benched in the fourth quarter of the team's third game this season in favor of Tommy Maddox. For Bettis, there were questions whether he was washed up after he missed most of the past month with a sprained knee. And for the defense, there was the question of whether what was the league's top-rated defense last season could still stop anyone. On this day, all three showed glimpses of their old selves.
"I told Jerome he could be 109 years old and on game day, he's still The Bus," said Stewart, who will go back to the bench when Maddox returns next week from a concussion. "That's the most gratifying thing in the world is when people say you can't do it and you go out and get it done."
Bettis, who passed O.J. Simpson to move into 11th place on the league's all-time rushing list, has heard that criticism. And for at least the first half, there seemed to be some credence to that argument, as Bettis gained just 13 yards on his first 10 carries. But as the game wore one, Bettis heated up.
"We wanted to get Amos Zereoue in there, but it was a case where you could watch Jerome and see that he was getting stronger in the fourth quarter," said head coach Bill Cowher. Indeed. Bettis had 66 yards on 12 carries in the second half, including a nifty 24-yard TD run that gave the Steelers their final
"Sometimes around here, it seems as though it's out of sight, out of mind," Bettis said. "It's unfortunate that you have to listen to all that criticism just because you're not playing. "People question whether I can still get it done. It doesn't make sense."
Just like it hadn't made sense that the team's defense hasn't been able to stop opposing offenses. The Steelers struggled at times again Sunday, but held the Bengals out of the end zone, despite Cincinnati having four shots to score from the 5-yard line. "That was big for us," said linebacker Joey Porter. "We haven't been playing well, but for us to come up and make plays like that when it counted, that's something we can build off of."
It's a small building block, but a building block nonetheless. Of course after this week, the Steelers won't have the Bengals to push around anymore.