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Bettis Excels to Carry Steelers Into Playoffs

He gets three touchdown runs in what probably was his last home game in 35-21 defeat of Lions.

January 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Jerome Bettis acted like a man ready to retire. He received two standing ovations, signed dozens of jerseys and footballs for his teammates, and posed for pictures on the field for half-an-hour after the game had ended.

Bettis matched his career high with three touchdown runs in what probably was his final home game, and the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame some sloppy defense to beat the Detroit Lions, 35-21, on Sunday, securing their 10th playoff appearance in 14 seasons under Coach Bill Cowher.

The Steelers (11-5) will play AFC North champion Cincinnati on Sunday in a wild-card game. Pittsburgh won at Cincinnati, 27-13, on Oct. 23, but effectively lost the division title with a 38-31 loss to the Bengals in Pittsburgh on Dec. 4.

Pittsburgh avoided a playoff rematch with New England when the Patriots lost, 28-26, to Miami. The Steelers lost AFC championship games at home to the Patriots last season and during the 2001 season.

"It didn't make any difference to me who we play," safety Troy Polamalu said. "We have unfinished business with both of them."

Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, had only 41 yards -- Willie Parker ran for 135 -- but scored on runs of one, five and four yards.

Bettis could think of only one better way to end his career -- playing in the Super Bowl for the first time.

"I told the guys, 'We've got to get there -- I'm running out of time,' " said Bettis, 33, who came back this season mostly for the chance to play in the Super Bowl in his Detroit hometown.

The Steelers won their fourth in a row after a three-game skid, despite allowing Joey Harrington to throw three touchdown passes after giving up only one touchdown and 12 points in their previous three games. The Lions (5-11) finished their fifth consecutive losing season with six losses in seven games.

For a team that needed to win to make the playoffs, the Steelers seemed to lack desperation after Antwaan Randle El scored on an 81-yard punt return less than two minutes into the game. Harrington threw scoring passes of 12 yards to Marcus Pollard and one yard to Cory Schlesinger to put the Lions up, 14-7.

"We gave them a ... little scare, but it wasn't enough," Lion Coach Dick Jauron said.

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