Steelers take smooth ride on #039;The Bus#039;

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2003

CINCINNATI - Tommy Maddox was completing passes, but not making much progress. Amos Zereoue was getting the ball, but not getting anywhere fast.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense bogged down, Jerome Bettis stood on the sideline, impatient for his coach to send him in. The demoted running back had to wait until late in the third quarter for his chance.

All it took was six emphatic runs to get the Steelers back on solid ground.

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Bettis revived Pittsburgh's dormant running game, and linebacker Joey Porter put the spark back into the Steelers' defense Sunday as they rolled to a 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

''It was back today,'' said Bettis, who had 59 yards on 16 carries.

Once Bettis started bowling over tacklers, the Steelers (2-1) looked and felt more like normal. Instead of relying on Maddox's throwing, they went back to the running game that has been the NFL's most productive since Bill Cowher took over as coach in 1992.

''There's a confidence. There's a swagger,'' Zereoue said. ''As a runner, you have this rhythm going. Everyone started clicking at the same time.''

As thousands of their fans twirled Terrible Towels at Paul Brown Stadium - perhaps 40 percent of the crowd of 64,596 wore black and gold - the Steelers got ahead with the help of a fake field goal.

They led only 7-3 late in the third quarter when Zereoue came to the sideline to catch his breath. Cowher sent in Bettis, who lowered his battering-ram shoulders on the his first carry and went 8 yards.

''You go with the guy who's running well,'' said Cowher, who made Bettis a backup during preseason. ''On the first run Jerome had, you kind of sensed that we got a little surge. He was moving the pile.''

He was moving the Bengals (0-3) by sheer determination. He got the ball on six consecutive plays, and went 23 yards in all for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead that made the Steelers' chests puffed out.

''Fabulous,'' guard Alan Faneca said. ''He came in there and ran over people. I think one time he had seven people on him, and he was still chugging away. That's awesome to see.''

It's what the Steelers had been waiting a long time to see. After relying on Maddox for the first two games, they were determined to get back to the basics.

''It didn't matter who was on the schedule this game,'' said Zereoue, who had 69 yards on 16 carries. ''We knew we had to get that running game established. We came out committed to the run, and ran the ball.''

They did it right to the end. After Jon Kitna's 5-yard touchdown pass to Peter Warrick cut it to 17-10 with 5:54 left, the Steelers ran out the clock by stringing together four first downs.

''For an offensive lineman, that's the best way to end the game, just running it down their throat and driving it down and killing the clock,'' Faneca said. ''They know what we're doing, and we're just doing what we want to do at will.''

The Bengals (0-3) weren't surprised to see Bettis, who usually does well against them - in 15 career games, he has topped 100 yards 10 times.

Porter returned only three weeks after he suffered gunshot wounds to the buttocks and right thigh. He had one of Pittsburgh's four sacks and helped to clamp down on an offense that lost running back Corey Dillon to a strained groin in the second quarter.

''That felt like Christmas felt when I was 11 years old,'' Porter said.

Notes: Maddox was 21-of-34 for 240 yards, including a 23-yard pass to Jerame Tuman on a fake field goal that set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown. … Steelers CB Chidi Iwuoma left the game in the second half with a mild concussion. … Dillon is listed as day-to-day. … WR Chad Johnson was on the sideline for the first three plays, punishment for violating a team rule. … The Bengals are 0-3 for the seventh time in the last 13 years.