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Steelers Bettis chews up Bills' defense

Monday, October 01, 2001

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Jerome Bettis is accustomed to feasting in the Buffalo area. As a kid, he used to visit his relatives and never missed going to the Anchor Bar and Restaurant, the original home of Buffalo wings.

Bettis did not go there Saturday night -- his mom and dad did, though -- but he spent yesterday afternoon chewing up the Buffalo defense.

"It was a chance to get back to what we do best," he said.

On a day when they accumulated more penalty yards (125) than passing yards (107), the Steelers turned to their running game and ground out 170 rushing yards in a 20-3 victory against the Bills. And nobody feasted more than Bettis, who piled up yards as if he were stacking bare chicken wings in a bowl.

"He kept telling me, 'I'm going to come running at you,' and he did," Bills defensive tackle Pat Williams said. "I give him all the credit."

Bettis finished with 114 yards on 22 carries -- his 47th 100-yard rushing performance -- and put himself in position to become only the 14th player in National Football League history to rush for more than 10,000 career yards.

Bettis, who has 9,946 yards, needs 54 in the home opener Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field to reach 10,000.

"It would be great to do it at home," he said. "I'd love to do it at home for the fans who have supported me for most of my career."

But it wasn't just Bettis who tore through the Bills defense. Amos Zereoue had a 32-yard run on the second series that ended with Kris Brown's missed 33-yard field goal. And Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala finally produced the offense's first touchdown of 2001 with a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter.

"We felt like for us to have any chance, with the way Buffalo uses a blitz package, it was to run the ball," left tackle Wayne Gandy said. "That's the kind of offense we have. Whenever you run the ball and play good defense, you have a chance."

The performance against the Bills was not only redemption for Bettis, who had 28 yards on 12 carries in the season-opening loss in Jacksonville.

It was also a comeback for the offensive line, which was pushed around in Jacksonville and didn't create any room for Bettis.

"It was better," guard Rich Tylski said. "We still made mistakes. We got a great running back and we take a lot of pride in running the ball."

"I thought we did a better job of blocking their defensive package," tight end Mark Bruener said. "We did a better job of staying on our blocks and picking up their stunts, playing mistake-free football."

The offensive line did not do that against the Jaguars, who used a lot of run blitzes. Against the Bills, the Steelers expected to see a lot of eight- and nine-man fronts because that's what Bills Coach Gregg Williams did when he was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee.

But the Bills did not start putting strong safety Raion Hill near the line of scrimmage until late in the third quarter. It didn't matter, though, because Bettis had a 30-yard run around right end and Fuamatu-Ma'afala scored on a 22-yard run.

"As the game kept going, they looked surprised, like, these guys are still coming," Gandy said. "From the way we played the previous game, I'm sure it was a surprise."

Nobody, though, noticed more than Bettis.

When he gained 22 yards on his first three carries against the Bills, he knew it was going to be a good day. Final proof came in the fourth quarter when he started off right tackle, veered outside and ran 30 yards to the Bills 35, setting up Brown's 52-yard field goal.

It was only the seventh time since coming to the Steelers in 1996 that Bettis has had a run of 30 yards or longer in a game. The Steelers are 6-1 in games when he does that.

"The offensive line did a great job," he said. "From the first play of the game, I knew that the offensive line was ready to play. We really didn't get the opportunity in the first game to establish the run. The offensive line was really anxious to get going this week and they pounded on the defensive line. It made it real easy for me. All I had to do was run through the holes."

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