December 18, 2004

Roethlisberger Leads Steelers to 12th Straight Win

Super rookie Ben Roethlisberger threw for a season-high 316 yards and a touchdown, and Jeff Reed kicked four field goals to help the Pittsburgh Steelers slip past the New York Giants 33-30 and collect a team record 12th consecutive win.

Magic Bus

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For a blink, the Meadowlands seemed such a familiar fit for this player. But you had to catch Jerome Bettis at just the right moment.

Maybe it was when he was cutting a swath into the New York Giants, like a snowplow in a pirouette. Or when he crossed into the shadow dividing the field early Saturday, turning his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey into a silhouette.

Just then, maybe Bettis reminded you of Ottis Anderson and the 1990 New York Giants – the Super Bowl team given balance by a running back pounding into his twilight.

"Oh yeah, I remember Ottis," a grinning Bettis said Saturday. "Of course I remember him. How could I not?"

In the midst Pittsburgh's 33-30 win over the Giants Saturday, how could anyone not?

It was 15 years ago that a New York team similar to these Steelers ground its way to the Super Bowl. Granted, we're not talking carbon copies here. The 1990 Giants had a defense just a bit stouter, while this Pittsburgh edition packs more offensive pop. And the two coaching Bills – Parcells and Cowher – aren't exactly separated at birth.

But look into Pittsburgh's backfield, and you'll see a player bearing eerie similarities to Anderson, who battered his way to a Super Bowl MVP despite critics who said he had nothing left.

Sound familiar?

"Everyone wrote him off," Steelers center Jeff Hartings says of Bettis. "People were even calling for him to be released in training camp. They said he was missing a step."

Nobody's saying that anymore, not with opposing defenses wearing Bettis' cleat marks like floral patterns. The Giants can attest to that fashion statement, after Bettis left a 36-carry 140-yard imprint on them Saturday.

With running back Deuce Staley's hamstring still throbbing, Bettis has shouldered the Pittsburgh load like the old days. In his five starts subbing for Staley, he's gone over 100 yards every time, rolling up 621 yards and averaging just over 31 carries per game.

Those are the classic blunt-instrument numbers that have rendered Bettis suddenly invaluable, and worthy of team MVP consideration. While it's been hard to see anything past rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blinding acclaim, Bettis gives the Pittsburgh offense its backbone.

Considering Staley's injury, it's hard to believe this team would be 13-1 and the toast if the AFC if you take Bettis out of the equation. That's a coup for a player who entered this season as little more than a goal-line specialist and emergency option. A player who, as the pundits framed it, had little more to offer than a burden on the team's salary cap.

Bettis has bagged 13 touchdowns, and given Pittsburgh unexpected flexibility in the backfield. When Staley returns, the Steelers should have the luxury of both power and finesse in the playoffs – an Ottis Anderson-Rodney Hamptonesque duo, if you will.

"Without a question, we can be that," Staley said. "It's been proven. I was able to come in the first seven games and start off pretty good. Now he's definitely picked it up since I went out."

When Saturday's outcome was in doubt and the ball was on New York's 8-yard line with the Steelers trailing 30-26, Bettis got three straight handoffs to score the go-ahead touchdown. Nearly four minutes later, when Pittsburgh faced 3rd and 3 and needed a first down to run out the clock, Bettis went over tackle for seven yards. Game over.

"I've been a closer all year long," he said. "When it gets on the one [yard line], that's when my true duties come out. There was no question about it, I was going to get that football in. Just like on that 3rd and 4 at the end of the football game – there was no way that we weren't going to get a first down."

By the time he was done, Bettis had notched the 48th 100-yard game of his career, passing Franco Harris to become Pittsburgh's all time leader. Just another stat on a resume that includes 13,177 rushing yards and 85 total touchdowns, yet still attracts the occasional barb. Only last week, Hartings went red-faced when he heard a television commentator question whether Bettis deserved Hall of Fame consideration.

"One of the dumbest questions I've ever heard," Hartings said. "I can't even believe that they would even have to question that. He's a no-doubt Hall of Famer."

A Super Bowl ring would go a long way toward crushing any remaining doubts. Bettis is acutely aware of this, just as he knows the same people lauding him now are the people who said he had nothing left to offer only a few months ago.

"It always upsets you when you hear those things, because you know that you're better than that," Bettis said. "Just to get the opportunity now is the thing. You've got to get the opportunity to make things happen."

Twelve years into his career and eyeing another shot at the Super Bowl, it would be hard for anyone to deny Bettis is doing just that.

Pittsburgh Rolls to 73-42 Win Vs. Coppin State

Chris Taft scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as No. 10 Pittsburgh rolled to a 73-42 win over Coppin State in a non-conference matchup at the Petersen Events Center.

George Harrison Guitar Sells for $567,500

A classic Gibson guitar played by George Harrison on the Beatles' "Revolver" album and by John Lennon during the recording of the "White Album" sold Friday to an anonymous bidder for $567,500, Christie's auction house announced.

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