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Bus carries Steelers past Eagles

November 07, 2004

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Jerome Bettis proved he's not a broken-down Bus.

Bettis has been a premier NFL runner for years and is No. 6 in career rushing but, after being relegated to a goal-line specialist role for most of the season, appeared to be nearing the end of his career.

But with Duce Staley out with a sore hamstring after gaining 100 or more yards in four of his previous five games, Bettis stepped in to run for 149 yards on 33 carries in Pittsburgh's dominating 27-3 victory Sunday over previously unbeaten Philadelphia.

The Steelers insisted that Bettis' best day in three years wasn't a surprise, but his statistics suggested otherwise. He averaged barely a yard per carry while running for seven touchdowns in Pittsburgh's first six games, and his 65 yards last week against New England were one more yard than he previously had all season.

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Until Sunday, Bettis had only 183 yards in his previous eight games - the equivalent of a half-season.

"It was real good to get out there and just show my ability is still there, it's just that the opportunities that are not there," said Bettis, who had only 12 yards on 12 carries through three games. "It boggles the mind that people were concerned that Duce was not in there, and what were we going to do? I've been getting it done for a long time. I'm not on the all-time (rushing) list because I look like this."

Maybe Bettis wanted to hold off the Jets' Curtis Martin a little longer - until Sunday, Martin looked ready to pass Bettis on the all-time list as early as this week. Instead, Bettis had his best game since running for 163 yards against Cleveland in 2001.

"Everybody said the Bus slowed down and does not have that much gas left in his tank," said Bettis, who repeatedly ran through huge holes created by the offensive line. "That is fine. I understand that. I have had the good parts, so you have to stand up and be a man and take the bad parts."

Bettis lost his starting job last year to Amos Zereoue and then, after regaining it late in the year, was told by coach Bill Cowher that the Steelers would bring in another runner this season. The Steelers subsequently signed Staley, who left Philadelphia after being forced to split time with two other running backs.

Bettis, 32, chose to stay in Pittsburgh at a much-reduced salary - $1 million, rather than the nearly $4 million he was supposed to make - rather than wind down his career with another team.

"Believe me, they don't pay people just to sit around," Bettis said. "Duce is a great running back and he's getting it done. The role is for me to be a relief guy, and I understand that. It is the role I chose."

Bettis went to the bench without public protest in each of the last two seasons, and his teammates noticed his professionalism. Wide receiver Hines Ward said it was obvious they were excited by Bettis' big game, especially when he gained 34 yards on Pittsburgh's 80-yard, game-opening drive.

"He is the Pittsburgh Steelers," Ward said. "When he's not starting, he's still encouraging guys to go out there. When he got his opportunity, he took advantage."

Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already knows what Bettis' next career move should be.

"He's a leader - that's why he's the mayor of the city," Roethlisberger said of Bettis, one of the NFL's few reserves with his own weekly TV show. "I think he would win hands down. I don't think anybody wouldn't vote for him."

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