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Quite a Double Whammy

AFC playoffs: Dominant performance by Steelers in 27-10 victory leaves defending champion Ravens humbled.

January 21, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PITTSBURGH — Elvis has left the playoffs.

And he has taken the defending Super Bowl champions with him.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost star running back Jerome Bettis during the pregame warmup, but they didn't lose their focus or determination, going on to blow out the Baltimore Ravens, 27-10, in an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday at Heinz Field in front a Terrible Towel-waving record sellout crowd of 63,976.

Pittsburgh will play host to Sunday's AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. Baltimore, the trash-talking team American loved to hate a year ago, will have to lower the decibel level until it can retool.

Or do what Raven tight end Shannon Sharpe did Sunday, turn the trash talk on his own team.

"The game wasn't really that close," Sharpe said. "It could easily have been 40-10 or 45-10."

Bettis, who had missed five games because of hip and groin injuries, suffered an adverse reaction to an injection by the medical staff 45 minutes before the game for the groin injury, causing numbness in one leg.

But that didn't slow the Steelers. With Amos Zereoue taking over as the primary back, Pittsburgh came up with more than enough offense to end the Ravens' season. Zereoue rushed for a game-high 63 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Kordell Stewart completed 12 of 22 for 154 yards and a touchdown, enabling the Steelers to hold onto the ball for 40 minutes 45 seconds.

"All year, this football team has not been about one individual," said Pittsburgh Coach Bill Cowher.

Of course most offenses are going to look pretty impressive when they share the field with the league's top defense. And Sunday, the Steelers looked every bit as good as their ranking against a Raven offense that looked every bit as bad as advertised.

The Baltimore running game was pitiful. The team gained a total of 22 yards, leading rusher Terry Allen barely making it into double figures with 11 yards in four carries.

Raven quarterback Elvis Grbac, with Steeler helmets in his face all day, finished with 18 completions in 37 attempts for 153 yards. He had three passes intercepted and the Steelers also had three sacks.

"We got pride man," said Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers. "Don't cross the 50 [yard line] unless you plan to do something.

"They talk about their running game and they got 22 yards today. Now they got a long off-season to work on that running game."

No argument from Sharpe.

"This lets us know we don't have the offense we need," Sharpe said. "It's very frustrating. We don't have the people we need to get the job done."

It was obvious early Sunday that Baltimore was not going to get the job done. The Ravens didn't get a first down until the second quarter. They were successful on only one of 12 third-down conversion attempts.

In the meantime, the Steelers kept putting points on the board.

When Pittsburgh's first drive stalled, Kris Brown was successful on a 21-yard field-goal attempt. Zereoue scored twice from a yard out and, when Brown connected from 46 yards out, it was 20-0 with 3:46 left in the half.

Pittsburgh's defense seemed to have an answer for anything the Ravens tried. When Baltimore cornerback Chris McAlister came up with an interception late in the first quarter, it should have meant a momentum shift.

Especially with the ball on the Pittsburgh seven-yard line.

But two plays later, Steeler safety Brent Alexander respond- ed with an interception of his own.

Matt Stover's 26-yard field goal in the final minute of the half at least assured the Ravens they would not suffer the ultimate embarrassment of a shutout.

But they were looking for more than only a way to reduce the shame. And they hoped they had found it in the third quarter when Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis fielded a punt at his 12, cut across the field and raced down the right sideline to the end zone untouched.

The 88-yard return was the longest in NFL postseason history, surpassing the 84-yard return of the Minnesota Vikings' Anthony Carter in 1987 against the New Orleans Saints.

Lewis' run, however, was to be the Ravens' last gasp.

Ultimately they had to turn the ball back over to their offense. And that proved not to be a viable option.

The Steelers closed out the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Plaxico Burress.

When it was over, Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who can trash talk with the best of them, was so choked up, he had trouble speaking.

That's because he was making a farewell speech. The 12-year veteran is retiring.

"When you have been doing something your whole life and it ends," Siragusa said, "it's tough. I started here as a Pitt Panther and I'm going out here."

The Steelers had reason to trash talk, but they were more interested in concentrating on their future rather than on the Ravens.

"You could say this or say that," Zereoue said. "But it's over for them. Just go home."

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On the Defensive

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