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AFC NOTES

Steelers Do It Without Bettis

January 21, 2002

PITTSBURGH — The Bus had no doubt he was going to be back on the road Sunday. But just to be sure, he was going to get a little extra air in his tires.

Pittsburgh Steeler running back Jerome Bettis, hampered by hip and groin injuries over the previous five games, suited up for Sunday's divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

But about 45 minutes before the opening kickoff with Bettis still feeling tightness, he was given an injection to the affected area. The needle, however, hit a nerve, causing numbness that lasted about five hours.

"He would have been ready by then," said Steeler Coach Bill Cowher, "but I don't think the network was going to let us move the game back five hours."

Bettis tried to remain upbeat in the face of the realization he would be a spectator Sunday.

"Hold them down, baby," he told his replacement, Amos Zereoue.

"He was really broken down," Zereoue said. "He wants to go out there. He's a football player."

Cowher said there is no reason to think Bettis won't be ready for Sunday's AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

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Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Tim Lewis felt the Ravens' status as defending Super Bowl champions made it more difficult for them to accept the one-sided nature of the game.

"When champions fall behind," Lewis said, "it can get real frustrating for them. It was like it was for Mike Tyson. Today, the Baltimore Ravens were biting their own ear."

The Ravens' 22 rushing yards are the second-lowest total allowed by the Steeler defense in team history. Pittsburgh held the Minnesota Vikings to 17 rushing yards in Super Bowl IX in 1975.

Steve Springer

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