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Back from the dead

Bettis helps Steelers regain footing in playoff race

Posted: Monday December 12, 2005 9:25AM; Updated: Monday December 12, 2005 3:55PM
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Jerome Bettis ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears on Sunday.
Jerome Bettis ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears on Sunday.

PITTSBURGH -- "How about this!'' a Steelers fan at a Friday's in Terminal D at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport screamed at me above all the other yelling in the bar. This was very late in the fourth quarter of the Dallas-Kansas City game on Sunday night. "Steelers fans rooting for the Cowboys! We never rooted for those jerks in our lives!"

Playoff fever makes for strange bedfellows. My brother-in-law, Lou Ranalli, who lives in Monongahela, Pa., refers to Dallas as the "Cryboys,'' because he believes Pete Rozelle always gave the squeaky-wheel Dallases every break when they'd complain to the league office. Anyway, here we were last night, waiting for a flight to Newark, and Drew Bledsoe had just thrown the winning touchdown pass to Dan Campbell before the Cowboys survived a nutty last few seconds to win  31-28.

These Steelerfiles are no fans of Team Teal either, but when the late-fourth-quarter score of the Dolphins-Chargers game -- which showed the Dolphins ahead, 23-21 -- flashed up, these still-thawing fans whooped it up again.

Amazing. Just amazing. Pittsburgh lost three in a row, had every tiebreaker in the western world killing them, and now, abracadabra, here's what the standings for the sixth seed in the AFC look like this morning: Kansas City, San Diego and Pittsburgh are all 8-5. The Chiefs have a 7-3 AFC record, the Chargers are 6-3 in the AFC and the Steelers are 6-5 in the conference.

But look at the remaining schedules:

Kansas City: at NY Giants, San Diego, Cincinnati.
San Diego: at Indianapolis, at Kansas City, Denver.
Pittsburgh: at Minnesota, at Cleveland, Detroit.

The Steelers are still in a hole. Even though they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over San Diego because they beat Chargers in Week 5, they're a solid 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City in the AFC tiebreaker because of conference record. But look at the two schedules. The Steelers have the clear advantage. Just when it looked darkest for this team, they rose up with a classic Pittsburgh game against the Bears: 46 rushes, 20 passes, zero sacks, 37:19 time of possession. Rushing yards: 190. Passing yards: 173.

Shows what I know about the game. I thought Pittsburgh was cooked, after the Steelers dropped their third in a row last week against Cincinnati. Last Wednesday, in a pre-show meeting before taping HBO's Inside the NFL show in Manhattan, I was busy telling Dan Marino how little football he knew after he predicted the Steelers would run the table and made the playoffs. I think what I said was, "Are you out of your mind? The Steelers? Playoffs? No way.''