Steelers seize the day as defense has its say

Pittsburgh sets the tone by shutting down run, putting its blitz to work

Steelers 27, Ravens 10

January 21, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - It is unknown whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will adopt a swagger as they move into the AFC championship game and perhaps beyond.

But after a 27-10 win over the Ravens at Heinz Field yesterday, Steelers wide-out Hines Ward, in the drawl of a Southern sheriff, had some choice suggestions about what the defending world champs could do with theirs.

"They've got that swagger, but they can swagger their butts back to Baltimore," he said after his team held the Ravens to 22 yards rushing and moved the ball well enough to mount a big lead in the first half. "We're moving on to the next round."

Around the Pittsburgh locker room, the prevailing attitude was "Enough, already!" Enough of hearing about how the pressure was on the Steelers, of how the Ravens had the superior defense and how Pittsburgh would struggle to move the ball.

And, enough of what the Steelers felt were intimidation tactics by the Ravens, highlighted by a Sam Adams-initiated confrontation with Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter before the game.

"They were stepping to me like I was going to bow down, and I'm stepping forward because I'm not running from anybody," Porter said. "I'm still scared of my mom ... but that's about it."

So, for the third time in as many tries this season, Pittsburgh had outplayed the Ravens, settling the issue of which team was better this season. Having lost running back Jerome Bettis to an adverse reaction to medication he'd taken for his injured groin, the unfazed Steelers dictated the agenda from the outset and raced to a 20-0 first-half lead that could have been worse.

The first three plays on both sides more or less told the story: two Ravens runs for 4 yards, a blitzing Porter forcing Elvis Grbac to throw a bad pass that was intercepted by Chad Scott. On offense, Amos Zereoue and Kordell Stewart each hacked off runs of more than 10 yards before Bobby Shaw's 14-yard catch from Stewart set up the Steelers' first field goal.

"It took them out of the game," center Jeff Hartings said of his team's first three plays, "and they really didn't get back into it until the end of the third quarter."

In the absence of Bettis, neither Zereoue nor Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala put up sparkling numbers - combining for 36 carries and 93 yards - but the running game produced 11 of the team's 21 first downs, a respectable 154 yards and two touchdowns.

It also opened things for Pittsburgh's passing game, wherein Stewart hit four of his first five passes.

"We probably had them a little bit off-balance - not knowing for sure what was going to happen," Stewart said.

With the offense moving the ball, Pittsburgh's defense had little to worry about, establishing early that the Ravens would not run - "This isn't Minnesota; this isn't Miami," coach Bill Cowher said - and that Grbac was going to have a long day.

Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis said his group's mantra was to get the runner on the way to the quarterback. With the Ravens getting 7 yards on their first four carries, and with Grbac throwing a hurried pick on their first third-down play and getting sacked by Mike Jones on their second, Lewis couldn't help but be pleased.

Up 20 points, Pittsburgh knew the Ravens had run out of options - unable to run or protect Grbac - which only increased its own options.

"Where [Grbac] excels is when they can run the ball - then he can sit back there and pick people apart," defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen said. "If we can stop the run with our base defenses, he don't know what's going to come - now they're limited and we're not."

Though Jermaine Lewis returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown and kicker Kris Brown's struggles at Heinz Field continued with a missed 35-yard field-goal attempt, Pittsburgh did well on special teams, with Troy Edwards breaking off punt returns of 35 and 27 yards.

It added to a complete triumph for Pittsburgh, which will remain at home Sunday to meet the New England Patriots for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

"That's why we're sitting here in the locker room smiling and they're going back," said strong safety Lee Flowers, who mentioned an added bonus about the win - a bet between the leaders of the two cities. "The mayor's supposed to get crab cakes, right?"

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