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Bettis brings big game

The running back not only gains 8.4 yards a carry but has Pittsburgh's lone touchdown pass too.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001


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TAMPA -- Running toward the tunnel in a corner of Raymond James Stadium after the game Sunday, Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis stopped momentarily to acknowledge a throng of Bucs fans in the stands above him.

Carrying a ball in his right hand, Bettis pounded it against his chest as he taunted the fans, saying over and over, "We are for real."

It was one of the rare times anyone in pewter and red stopped him.

Bettis, showing he's still one of the league's most punishing runners after nine seasons, rumbled through Tampa Bay's defense for 143 yards on 17 carries, 8.4 yards per carry. He hurt the Bucs in ways they never imagined, breaking off a 46-yarder for one score after throwing a 32-yard touchdown on a halfback option.

It was Bettis' fourth straight 100-yard rushing day and his second-best production this season, behind the 153 yards he gained against Cincinnati. Yet it was perhaps his most impressive outing, considering it came against a team ranked ninth in total defense.

"They don't play the Steelers on a regular basis," Bettis said. "You can look at the film and think we're not as physical as we are, but when we get out on the field, we're a physical football team. And they found that out today."

As impressive as Bettis was carrying the ball, it was the option pass in the second quarter that really put the squeeze on the Bucs, who seemingly had no clue it was coming.

It was third and 2, the perfect scenario to give the ball to a 255-pound running back. Bettis took the toss to his right, pulled up and lofted the ball to open tight end Jerame Tuman, who raced untouched into the end zone for a 7-3 Pittsburgh lead.

"We knew they were expecting us to run the football," Bettis said. "And we were in that range where you want to throw it. You know, it was third and 2 and the defense was going to be aggressive."

Bettis said he knew he could pull it off because he had thrown a touchdown on a similar play against Baltimore in 1999. But he admitted he was a bit unsure because the last time he attempted it, he underthrew the receiver and the pass was intercepted.

"I was a little nervous," he said. "I just made sure I threw it long this time."

The Steelers said they practiced the play during the week, figuring it might be effective against the Bucs, who have speedy linebackers and defensive backs who react quickly. They helped sell the play with a typical running formation.

"Tampa Bay is thinking straight run. They're not thinking we're going to pass the ball, and it showed," receiver Plaxico Burress said. "Nobody had ever seen us do that before. I wasn't surprised when it was a touchdown. We knew when we called it it was either going to be a touchdown or it was going to be nothing.

"It was the perfect situation. We were feeding it to Jerome and he was running hard. And if you pitch the ball to him, (the Bucs) are already thinking he's running. They're not thinking he's throwing it, so it was a great call by the coach."

That play might have opened things for Bettis running the ball. He had only 23 yards on seven carries at that point. But on his second carry after the pass, he turned a simple counter into a 46-yard touchdown. He started right, then cut left, making linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch miss before breaking into daylight.

His next carry went for 15 yards on third and 1 from the Pittsburgh 25, and the one after that netted 29 on second and 1 from the Bucs 49.

"He is, for whatever reason, making cuts he hasn't made in two or three years," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.

Like the wise veteran he is, Bettis gave the credit to his offensive linemen.

"They did a great job just controlling (the Bucs defensive line) all day long," he said.

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