Bettis Injury Turns Game Around

Emmitt Thomas' defense was much more effective at shutting down the Steelers after Jerome Bettis left with an injury. It nearly cost the Steelers the game, and it showed how one-dimensional they really are.

As of right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 9-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. However, many people question whether the Steelers could advance deep into the playoffs if anything happened to Jerome Bettis — the backbone of the offense. The Steelers will have even more questions like that arising after losing Bettis to an injury created the turning point of the game.

The Steelers had dominated the Vikings through three quarters, thanks to the consistent power running of Bettis. He was wearing down the defense and was primed for a huge fourth quarter to eat up the clock and end the game. Instead, he was injured on a 16-yard screen near the goal line that set up the Steelers' final score and a 21-3 lead.

With Bettis out, the Steelers reverted into an offensive shell, not willing to let Kordell Stewart serve as the primary offensive threat and unable to get backup running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala untracked in the same grinding style Bettis employs. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Ma'afala carried three times and failed to get a first down. While the Vikings didn't score on the next drive, it sent a message that Pittsburgh needed to get more involved in the offense.

After Ma'afala was stuffed on the next Steelers drive, Stewart hesitated in taking a shot downfield and the Steelers went three-and-out again. This time, the Vikings took advantage and scored on an 80-yard screen pass to Michael Bennett, keeping hope alive at 21-10.

Still unwilling to let Stewart loose and unable to get production from Ma'afala, the Steelers ran the ball three times and again failed to get a first down. When Vikings backup Todd Bouman completed a pair of passes for 73 yards to Randy Moss, suddenly the Vikings were behind just 21-16.

When the Steelers finally did allow Stewart to try to make something happen, disaster struck, as Chris Hovan forced a fumble and the Vikings recovered on the Pittsburgh 10-yard line.

The fact that the Vikings didn't take advantage of the huge turnover didn't change the indelible image of the Steelers coming extremely close to blowing an 18-point lead in less than seven minutes. Once the Vikings failed to capitalize on the drive, the Steelers didn't let Stewart run again and, only the first good run of the day by Ma'afala saved Pittsburgh from punting to the Vikings again and giving Bouman, Moss and Co. another shot.

Are the Steelers 9-2? Yes. Are they the best team in the AFC? No. They learned the hard way just how important Bettis is to this team and, when he went out of the game, it created the turning point of the game and almost turned a sure victory into a shocking loss. VU

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