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Steelers Slog to Victory

October 18, 1999

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers got their running game going, perhaps because Jerome Bettis is healthy for the first time all season.

Now, about that passing game ...

They slogged to a 17-3 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals _ the NFL’s worst team during the 1990s _ that was far more educational to the Steelers (3-3) than it was entertaining to their fans.

If nothing else, they learned they can run the ball productively and consistently without All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson, who missed his first significant playing time in years with a hamstring injury.

Dawson, who left late in the first quarter, has started 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the NFL. He doesn’t plan on missing Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons (1-5).

``I don’t think it’s that serious,″ coach Bill Cowher said. ``He wants to play Monday night _ badly. I don’t think it will be anything long.″

If that’s the case, then Dawson’s injury layoff will be much like the Steelers’ passing game: short and not all that bothersome.

Kordell Stewart’s numbers looked good _ 17-of-29 _ but he threw for only 134 yards against what was the NFL’s 24th-worst pass defense. And, after going nearly all season without his receivers consistently getting open downfield, Stewart had open men but couldn’t hit them.

He twice overthrew Hines Ward on potential touchdowns.

The only difference from the previous three weeks: the Steelers won.

``It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t artistic, but we did find a way to get it done,″ Cowher said.

They got it done the way the Steelers have done it so many times before, with a physical running game and an equally physical secondary.

Cornerbacks Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington neutralized receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott, with Pickens making four catches _ nine fewer than he had against the Steelers in Cincinnati last season _ and Scott having one catch for 11 yards.

``We have a lot of pride in our defense,″ Washington said. ``Last week, we didn’t play our best ball in Buffalo, and we were determined not to let it happen again.″

With Bengals rookie quarterback Akili Smith unable to throw deep, the Steelers ganged up on AFC rushing leader Corey Dillon, holding him to 78 yards. The Bengals’ inability to sustain drives helped the Steelers do so behind Bettis, who gained 111 yards in his first 100-yard game since the regular season finale against Jacksonville in December.

Since that game, Bettis has had two arthroscopic knee surgeries and a calf injury, and Cowher said he didn’t begin running like the Bettis of old until last week.

Bettis rushed for more than 4,200 yards the last three seasons, but had only 256 yards _ and no 100-yard games _ in his first five games.

That led to speculation that, because of the injuries and the Steelers’ decision to not re-sign his best friend and lead blocker, fullback Tim Lester, Bettis wasn’t the back he was before.

``I can’t run from my doubters,″ Bettis said. ``I’m not the sleekest guy, not the shiniest guy out there. But I run hard and I get the job done.″

Cowher said, ``Anybody who watched could tell it was his best week of practice. This is the best he’s felt. It didn’t surprise me he had the game he had.″

What the Steelers don’t know is what kind of game they will get from the Falcons, who lost at home Sunday to St. Louis 41-13.

The Steelers do have history on their side. They haven’t lost to the Falcons in nearly 29 years _ a 27-16 defeat on Dec. 13, 1970. They have won eight straight over Atlanta, the last coming 20-17 on Oct. 27, 1996, and are 10-1 against the Falcons.

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