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Steelers Steelers run over Bengals, 17-10

Monday, September 22, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

CINCINNATI -- There's nothing like a dose of the Cincinnati Bengals to cure what ails you. In the Steelers' case, they weren't sick; they just had an identity crisis early in the season.

Jerome Bettis entered the game in the third quarter and ran on every play until he scored a touchdown. The 23 yards gained on those six plays more than doubled his rushing yardage for the season. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

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Subscribers to BGI Insider may read more game analysis by columnists Ron Cook and Bob Smizik, and listen to post-game audio.

A team that built a dynasty and a long-standing reputation for playing black-and-blue football, the Steelers looked more patty-cake than beefcake through the first two games. They couldn't run, and they couldn't stop the run.

Yesterday, they rumbled into Paul Brown Stadium and before a record crowd that included thousands of their own Terrible Towel-waving fans, the Steelers smacked the winless Bengals around for their second victory in three games. The 17-10 score did not do their signature performance justice.

"It was good to see us kind of re-establish a little bit of our tradition," coach Bill Cowher said.

The tradition included the returns of The Bus and The Boot, and a trick play they simply called Bengal.

The Steelers (2-1) ran for 138 yards, passed for 238, held the Bengals to 125 passing yards and only 57 on the ground. Linebacker Kendrell Bell's first two sacks of the season led a four-sack Steelers defense that contained the successful comeback of wounded linebacker Joey Porter, who celebrated his first sack with his trademark "boot" gesture.

"I was excited just to get out there and make a big play, just get accustomed to doing things before this happened," said Porter, who was shot in the buttocks Aug. 31. "I was just happy to go out there and play football."

It wasn't just the impressive yardage differential, but the way the Steelers did it. With guard Alan Faneca either knocking Bengals flat or the helmets off their heads, Steelers running backs had their best day. Amos Zereoue (69 yards) and Jerome Bettis (59) complemented each other the way Cowher had hoped they would. Bettis, after carrying only eight times in the first two games, had 16 carries yesterday.

Wide receiver Hines Ward caught a pass at the 2 and was fighting two Bengals to get into the end zone when 246-pound fullback Dan Kreider smashed into the pile and pushed Ward over the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown.

Bettis powered into the end zone in the third quarter from the 1 on a fourth-down gamble by Cowher for the Steelers' other touchdown.

"We were just trying to make a statement and run old-style Steelers football," Zereoue said.

They made one final impression at the end of the game after Cincinnati's Peter Warrick caught a 5-yard pass from Jon Kitna to close the gap to one touchdown with 5:54 left.

The Steelers took the ball at their 20 after the kickoff and never let the Bengals see it again. They moved 58 yards on 10 plays, with six consecutive running plays before finishing with their favorite play of all to end a game, quarterback Tommy Maddox taking a knee.

"To be able to get the ball back with five minutes left," Cowher said, "and them never seeing it again, that's like the days of old."

Ward (four receptions for 48 yards) and Plaxico Burress (5-56) did not have their usual high-octane games, but they said it did not matter.

"We had to establish the run, it's something we wanted to go out and do," Ward said. "Amos and Jerome did a great job. Our stats weren't as high in the passing game as we wanted but we'll sacrifice some of the passing yards if we can go out and be more balanced."

The Steelers made it look easy on their first drive of the day when they moved from their 44 to Cincinnati's 6. Things turned in a hurry, though, when they failed again inside their opponent's 20. Kicker Jeff Reed pushed his chip-shot, 24-yard field-goal try wide right for his first miss of the season after a 6-for-6 start..

Kitna, who has given them fits in the past, then completed three consecutive passes, the third one a nice sideline pattern to Chad Johnson for 31 yards. That gave the Bengals a first down at the Steelers' 17 in a scoreless game.

Kitna then threw a pass for Warrick on the right. Cornerback Chad Scott tipped it and linebacker Jason Gildon made a diving interception at the 7. Gildon, untouched, started to run and then inexplicably flipped the ball back to Porter. It bounced off his helmet before Porter recovered at the Steelers' 8.

"He wasn't going to pitch it, then he pitched it," said Porter, who had shouted to Gildon to give him the ball. "It kind of hit me in the face. I said, 'Oh, man, I better get this ball back; if I lose it, I'm going to hear it on the sideline.' "

Two different kinds of plays helped the Steelers break a scoreless tie.

Late in the second quarter, on fourth-and-3, Reed lined up for a 50-yard field goal try. Maddox, the holder, took the snap on his knee, popped straight up and threw a pass to tight end Jerame Tuman on the left flat, a fake the Steelers called "Bengal." Tuman took it 23 yards to the 9. Three plays later, from the 7, Maddox threw a third-down pass to Ward on the left.

Ward was bottled up at the 2, struggling to get in when Kreider, following the play, bulled into the group and hit Ward, sending the entire pile tumbling into the end zone. The officials could have penalized Kreider for illegally pushing a teammate to gain yardage but instead called it a touchdown for a 7-0 Steelers halftime lead.

"He was just going to block a defender and just happened to hit [Ward]," Cowher said with a straight face.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did not complain.

"They had a good hit, and their guys got there and finished the play before our guys. That is not good enough."

It was a tough day for Lewis, the Bengals' first-year coach and a former assistant under Cowher. He lost ace running back Corey Dillon to a groin injury in the first half, and that effectively wiped out the Bengals' threat on the ground. Kitna had his moments, but the Steelers had him under a heavy rush. They took advantage of left tackle Levi Jones. Bell's two sacks and another by Kimo von Oelhoffen came when they practically separated Jones from his Levis.

"This is a guy who I just outworked," said Bell, whose sacks came when playing right end in the dime defense.

The Bengals scored on a 44-yard Shayne Graham field goal in the third quarter. The opportunity came when Steelers receiver Chris Doering cut the wrong way and safety Rogers Beckett was where Doering should have been to intercept Maddox's pass.

The Steelers, though, responded with another long touchdown drive after Bettis entered the game for the first time because Zereoue was winded. Bettis finished off the 12-play, 71-yard drive by covering the final 23 yards on six consecutive runs. Cowher never hesitated on fourth down from the 1, and Bettis ran over right guard for the score.

"In the second half, we got a chance to really control the football and pound it," Bettis said. "As a running back, you want an opportunity to make a difference in the game."

That score virtually put things away. A 31-yard punt return by Warrick before he slipped and fell on loose sod gave the Bengals in good field position at the Steelers' 47. That led to Warrick's 5-yard touchdown catch from Kitna.

Then the Bengals (0-3) made their final mistake on a bad day for them. They kicked the ball off with 5:54 left and never got it back.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.

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