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Steelers Emotional pregame provides spark, and Steelers overcome six personal foul penalties in season's first win

Monday, October 01, 2001

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ignited by the patriotic pregame show, the Steelers went out and provoked a strong flying of the flags yesterday.

Dewayne Washington roughs up Bills quarterback Rob Johnson, who took a beating yesterday. Washington also provided points by returning a fumble 63 yards for a touchdown. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

They were all yellow, and the officials tossed them as if they were candy from a Mardi Gras float. Inspired on one hand by New York Governor George Pataki's pregame speech and angered on the other by six personal fouls called against them in the first half, the Steelers put their long rest to rest by clubbing the Buffalo Bills, 20-3.

It was their first victory in Buffalo in 23 years, their first victory of the season and the first time they had played in three weeks.

"We haven't played in like three years," said Coach Bill Cowher, as his team evened its record at 1-1. "Then you go out there and have the governor of New York ... I had tears in my eyes. There is a lot of emotion in that game, and we wanted to come out and play that game."

They played it, the way they did in Jacksonville, without much of a passing attack, but this time their running game and their defense showed up, and it was more than enough to put the Bills (0-3) in their place.

Cornerback Dewayne Washington scored the only points the Steelers needed when he scooped up a Buffalo fumble, caused when safety Brent Alexander hit Travis Henry, and ran 63 yards for a touchdown on the last play from scrimmage in the first quarter. That play also got Cowher off the hook for the first penalty called against him in his coaching career ... for arguing another penalty.

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Kris Brown added field goals of 30 and 52 yards and, finally, the Steelers' offense scored its first touchdown of the season when Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala broke lose for a 22-yard touchdown run late in the game.

In the meantime, the Steelers' defense held Buffalo to Jake Arians' 23-yard field goal, sacked beleaguered quarterback Rob Johnson four times, added an interception and stuffed the Bills' ground game.

And Jerome Bettis, bottled up for 28 yards in the opener, broke loose for 114 yards rushing.

"Today went kind of like Steelers football goes," tackle Wayne Gandy said. "For us to be successful, everybody knows this is how we're going to have to play."

It was typical, too, in that their passing game was poor. Quarterback Kordell Stewart completed 15 of 22 passes but for only 107 yards, often underthrowing receivers. Hines Ward did catch a career-high nine passes but for only 79 yards, and he referred to the passing game the Steelers have been playing as "Rink-a-Dink."

"This offense is not designed to go deep," he said.

Whether by design or not, the Steelers had three runs (32, 30 and 22 yards), Washington's fumble return, Chad Scott's fourth-quarter 62-yard interception return, and two Hank Poteat punt returns (39, 18 yards) longer than their longest pass completion of 17 yards.

At one point in the second quarter, Plaxico Burress flashed wide open in the end zone when a defensive back fell down, and Stewart delivered a pass that fell several yards in front of him.

"I thought we missed some opportunities early in the game," Cowher said. "We let them hang around. We were fortunate to come out of here with a win. We overcame a lot of things with the penalties. We didn't turn the football over, we created some turnovers on defense and that was the difference."

The Steelers knocked Johnson from the game after sacking him four times and generally making his day miserable. He completed only 13 of 22 passes before giving way to Alex Van Pelt, who threw the game's only interception.

Johnson had to line up behind two backup tackles because starters John Fina and Jonas Jennings were scratched by injuries. Then backup Kris Farris left with a broken leg in the first quarter.

Jason Gildon, Rodney Bailey, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith all took advantage with sacks and forced Johnson to throw the ball more quickly in the second half.

"Aaron Smith set the tone early when he got his sack," Porter said. "Once we got the lead, it's pretty tough to hold us off when we're blitzing every play. We held them off long enough for our offense to get going. We need to do that every week."

Washington's touchdown not only got the Steelers going, it calmed them down.

The Steelers were antsy to start with because they had not played in three weeks -- the postponed second week of the season followed by their scheduled open date last week. They also got caught up in the pregame emotion of hearing the national anthem sung as more than 100 firefighters,, police, EMTs and other civil servants took part on the field. It was Buffalo's first home game since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Steelers' first game since then.

Then, the Bills upset the Steelers by kicking in their end of the field while they were trying to stretch before the game. That might have led to the many unsportsmanlike conducts and personal fouls against the Steelers in the first half.

"There's no room in this game to disrespect another team like that," safety Lee Flowers said. "They blatantly disrespected us like they just came back from the Super Bowl yesterday."

When Flowers was called for a 15-yard personal foul near the end of the first quarter, Cowher stepped a dozen yards onto the field and kept screaming at referee Tom White, who finally threw a flag on Cowher.

The 30 yards in penalties gave the Bills a first down at the Steelers' 35 with the game scoreless. Two plays later, Alexander smacked into Henry, who fumbled. The loose ball bounced off the artificial turf, and Washington picked it up on the run and never stopped.

Cowher, who apologized to his defense for putting them in such a hole, thanked Washington for bailing him out.

"That was very nice of him and of our defense," Cowher said. "I was flat wrong."

"We're not a dirty team, we're an aggressive team," Washington said. "A lot of penalties, I thought, were uncalled for. I just think they were kind of happy throwing those flags today."

The Steelers thought it was a good day to salute the flag, not to throw so many. It turned out to be a good day, anyway.

Their defense, struck by three touchdown passes in the second quarter Sept. 9 at Jacksonville, held the Bills out of the end zone after they drove inside the Steelers' 1 in the second quarter. A false start pushed the Bills back to the 5, and they had to settle for a 23-yard field goal.

That came at the end of the first half and pulled the Bills to 10-3, but they never came close after that. Brown's 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter put the Steelers back up by 10.

The way the Bills' offense was playing, it was a safe lead.

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