The Steelers combined their still-flawless new quarterback with a touch of the old—a Jerome Bettis of yesteryear and a defense that was Steel Curtain-tough—to dominate the Philadelphia Eagles 27-3 Sunday and leave the NFL without an undefeated team.
The Steelers (7-1) ended the Eagles’ seven-game winning streak a week after halting New England’s record 21-game winning streak with an equally impressive 34-20 victory. Pittsburgh is the only team in NFL history to stop unbeaten teams in consecutive weeks after each had won at least six games.
“Nobody ever thought we’d do this,” said Hines Ward, who scored the first two touchdowns. “We’re giving defensive coordinators heck trying to figure out what we’re going to do, with weapons all over the field and a quarterback who just keeps getting better.”
How much better can Big Ben get than this? Roethlisberger is 6-0 as a starter—the first rookie since the 1970 merger to do that since Pittsburgh’s Mike Kruczek filled in for an injured Terry Bradshaw in 1976.
Here’s the difference: Kruczek didn’t throw a TD pass all season on a team that won behind the Steel Curtain; Roethlisberger (11 of 18, 183 yards, two touchdowns) has thrown for 11 touchdowns while playing with the polish and growing confidence of a much more experienced player.
“He’s remarkable,” Eagles linebacker Mark Simoneau said. “Look at him on the field and he doesn’t look like a rookie, he looks like a guy who’s been around four or five years. Give the guy credit, he made plays all day long.”
Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to a 21-0 lead on their first three possessions with the help of Bettis’ 149 yards, his 55th career 100-yard game. The 1978 Steelers were the only other team in franchise history to start 7-1, en route to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl title.
Ward scored on the first two drives, a 16-yard reverse and a 20-yard reception, then playfully mocked the Eagles (7-1) and star receiver Terrell Owens by flapping his arms Owens-like in the end zone each time.
No wonder Owens was screaming instead of strutting a week after celebrating a touchdown by imitating Ravens star Ray Lewis’ pregame dance. Owens, coming off five consecutive 100-yard games, didn’t catch his first pass until Pittsburgh led 21-0 and could be seen yelling at quarterback Donovan McNabb on the sidelines.
Owens ended with seven catches for 53 yards, and a heavily pressured McNabb was 15 of 24 for 109 yards and an interception.
“That just wasn’t our offense out there, but it happens,” McNabb said. “We’re not the first team undefeated that lost.”
McNabb and Owens downplayed the shouting incident, with both saying Owens was only trying to encourage the quarterback.
“When things aren’t happening, you get frustrated,” McNabb said. “He was there telling me to be positive about everything. I’m usually the guy to provide confidence, but today he was that guy.”
The Steelers didn’t miss injured running back Duce Staley (hamstring), the former 1,000-yard Eagles rusher, as their offensive line opened holes big enough for, well, a Bus to run through. Bettis, the No. 6 rusher in NFL history, gained only 129 yards in Pittsburgh’s first seven games and was barely averaging a yard per carry until getting 65 yards against New England.
“Everybody assumed Jerome Bettis couldn’t get it done any longer,” said Bettis, a backup most of the last two seasons who had his best game since gaining 163 yards against Cleveland in 2001. “People were asking, `Why is he still here?’ I’m still here for a reason.”
Ward said, “We have confidence in Jerome Bettis—he is the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
A week after outrushing New England 221-5, the Steelers outran the Eagles 252-23 and outgained them 420-111 to end Philadelphia’s nine-game road winning streak.
Maybe it was appropriate that many members of the 1979 Super Bowl champion Steelers were in attendance, because this was exactly the kind of commanding performance on both sides of the ball those Steelers were known for.
Just like the New England game, this one was decided early. The Steelers came out running right at the Eagles, partly to negate Philadelphia’s blitz, and Roethlisberger passed only two times on an 11-play, 80-drive finished off by Roethlisberger’s 16-yard scramble on third-and-13 and Ward’s first career scoring run. Roethlisberger threw TD passes on the next two drives.
The Steelers chose to not try to score after reaching the Eagles’ 8 with 2 1/2 minutes left. … The crowd of 64,975 at 64,350-seat Heinz Field was a Steelers record, surpassing the 64,737 for the Patriots. … Roethlisberger has won his last 19 starts, including his last 13 at Miami of Ohio last season. … Philadelphia failed to become the seventh NFL team ever to win 10 consecutive road games. … The Eagles were 0-for-8 on third downs and are 12-for-54 in their last five.