Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Slumping Steelers take `The Bus' for a spin on offense


The Pittsburgh Steelers thought they could live without a steady diet of tailback Jerome Bettis.

They believed the wear and tear of 10 NFL seasons had finally caught up to him, rendering him useless as a starter, but useful as a backup.

So they anointed younger and speedier Amos Zereoue as their main ball-carrying man this season, figuring his explosive quickness would serve as the perfect complement to their vertical passing attack.

The Steelers figured wrong. But they finally got it right. After six weeks of struggle yielded a 2-4 record, head coach Bill Cowher saw enough of "Famous Amos" and turned to "The Bus."

The 5-foot-11, 252-pound Bettis finally looked like his ol' steamroller self last week when he set team season highs with 93 yards on 24 carries in the Steelers' 13-6 victory at Cleveland. He'll blast away against the Bengals on Sunday in a game the Steelers must win to get in the playoff hunt.

Bettis prospered from a consistent performance by an offensive line that was bolstered by the return of left tackle Marvel Smith, who was plagued for seven weeks by a pinched nerve in his neck.

"It had been awhile," Bettis said. "It was a combination of us not being able to sustain any type of offense, but also we've been banged up up front and that's been biting at us. But we're starting to get healthy now."

Nevertheless, Bettis can't help but feel vindicated. His club tried a different direction, which didn't work, and then turned to their trusty friend.

"It always feels good that you're utilized -- when they decide to go to you and you get it done," said Bettis, who leads the Steelers in rushing with 406 yards and four touchdowns. "That's what you want them to keep doing, and you've just got to keep giving them results."

Bettis has a habit of delivering against the Bengals. In 15 games against Cincinnati, he's cranked out 1,525 yards (a 101.7 average) with 10 100-yard games.

"He's a big man that has great feet," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's got great passion and plays the game with an aggressive attitude. It gets you excited to play with him in the huddle. Those guys are excited because they know he's going to do his part. If they give him a crack, he's going to do the rest of it and bust it wide open."

Cowher was like a guy who juggled two dates at the senior prom. He brought Zereoue to the party, but wound up dancing with Bettis. Temporarily mesmerized by Zereoue's speed, he eventually fell in love with Bettis' power -- and his production.

Bettis is the fifth player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing attempts (3,001), joining Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders on the list. Bettis needs 52 yards to become the 10th player in league history to rush for 12,000 yards.

"He's there for you every Sunday," Cowher said. "He gives you everything he has. You wish you had every player like that. Jerome is a pretty special guy."

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