November 07, 2004

Steelers Dominate, Hand Eagles First Loss

PITTSBURGH - Two unbeaten teams faced in two weeks, two unbeaten teams defeated. The Pittsburgh Steelers are accomplishing feats never before seen in the NFL, largely because of rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers combined their new quarterback with a touch of the old — a Jerome Bettis of yesteryear and a defense that was Steel Curtain-tough — to dominate the Philadelphia Eagles 27-3 Sunday and leave the NFL without an undefeated team.

The Steelers (7-1) partly are the reason for that, halting the best start in Eagles' history a week after ending New England's record 21-game winning streak with an equally impressive 34-20 victory. Pittsburgh is the only team in NFL history to beat unbeaten team in consecutive weeks after each had won at least six games.

How fitting is that, considering Roethlisberger is 6-0 as a starter — the first rookie since the 1970 merger to do that since Pittsburgh's Mike Kruczek in 1976. But Kruczek didn't throw a TD pass all season on a team that won behind the Steel Curtain; Roethlisberger has thrown for 10 touchdowns while playing with the growing confidence and polish of a much more experienced player.

Roethlisberger again outplayed a more accomplished quarterback, just as he did the Patriots' Tom Brady, by driving the Steelers to scores on their first three possessions with the help of Bettis' 55th career 100-yard game. The 1978 Steelers were the only other team in franchise history to start 7-1, en route to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl title.

Hines Ward scored on each of the first two drives, a 16-yard reverse and a 20-yard reception, then playfully mocked the Eagles (7-1) by flapping his arms in the end zone each time.

No wonder Eagles star receiver Terrell Owens was screaming instead of strutting a week after celebrating a touchdown by imitating Ravens star Ray Lewis' pregame dance. Owens, coming off five consecutive 100-yard games, didn't catch his first pass until Pittsburgh led 21-0 and could be seen yelling at quarterback Donovan McNabb on the sidelines. Owens ended with seven catches for 53 yards.

The Steelers didn't miss injured running back Duce Staley (hamstring), the former 1,000-yard Eagles rusher, as a re-energized Bettis ran for 149 yards behind an offensive line that opened holes big enough for, well, a Bus to run through. Bettis gained only 129 yards in Pittsburgh's first seven games and was barely averaging a yard per carry until getting 65 yards against New England.

A week after outrushing New England 221-5, the Steelers outran the Eagles 252-23 — a 473-28 edge over two of the NFL's best teams — and outgained them 420-111.

Maybe it was appropriate that many members of the 1979 Super Bowl champion Steelers were in attendance, because this was exactly the kind of commanding performance on both sides of the ball that those Steelers were known for.

Just like the New England game, this one was decided early. The Steelers came out running right at the Eagles, partly to negate Philadelphia's blitz, and Roethlisberger passed only two times on an 11-play, 80-drive finished off by Roethlisberger's 16-yard scramble on third-and-13 and Ward's first career scoring run.

After the Eagles went three and out, Roethlisberger hit Plaxico Burress for 12 yards and Verron Haynes for 18 on another third-and-13 ahead of a misdirection play that saw Ward streak 5 yards ahead of cornerback Sheldon Brown before making his touchdown catch.

It would have been even worse if Burress hadn't dropped the ball in the open field while streaking down the sideline on a 47-yard catch early in the third, or if the Steelers hadn't chosen not to try to score after driving to the 8 with 2 1/2 minutes left.

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