Evaluated Bettis plans to be ready for Patriots Steelers RB leaves field with sore groin; AFC notebook


PITTSBURGH -- Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers breathed a sigh of relief when running back Jerome Bettis returned from the locker room with 2: 58 left in the third quarter.

Bettis had left the field with 5: 20 remaining to have a stretched groin muscle evaluated.

Bettis returned to carry three more times for 13 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 14: 21 left in the game.

And he is expected to play Sunday in the AFC semifinal against the New England Patriots.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," said Bettis, who also has an ankle injury but still rushed for 102 yards yesterday against the Indianapolis Colts. "I'm a little sore and banged up, but I think I should be ready to go for the next game."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher said: "The one thing about Jerome is he knows this time of year there are a lot of guys playing with pain, and I think he is going to be in the lineup next week."

Steel Curtain revisited

After being pummeled by the Pittsburgh defense, the Colts still didn't have any solutions.

"It's hard," Colts running back Marshall Faulk (25 yards on nine carries) said of trying to slow down the Steelers' defensive pressure. "We got down and they knew we had to throw the ball. That allowed them to just bend their ears back and just come. Sometimes we picked them up, sometimes we didn't."

Indianapolis coach Lindy Infante said: "We probably didn't protect as well [as we should have]. I probably didn't call as many good plays as I should have. We didn't run as well as we could. We didn't block as well as we could. We didn't catch as well as we could. Pittsburgh is No. 1 in the AFC on defense. We knew that."

Overlooked gem

Pittsburgh has a reputation of finding good players that other teams have overlooked. The latest may be Jon Witman, a fullback out of Penn State, who was selected by the Steelers in the third round of last April's draft.

When Bettis went down yesterday, Witman replaced him and rushed for 48 yards on seven carries, including a 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

"He is just a good football player," Cowher said. "He doesn't get enough credit because he gets as much pleasure out of blocking as rushing with the ball. It's a pleasure to find those kinds of guys."

Looking ahead to Bledsoe

The Steelers contained Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh in the pocket and didn't allow him to get outside much yesterday.

Pittsburgh wants similar pressure on New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe, but it may not come from the outside.

"He is a different kind of quarterback," said Steelers linebacker Chad Brown, who had three of Pittsburgh's four sacks. "Bledsoe isn't going to beat you with his scrambling. Our objective will be to move him out of the pocket."

Johnson catching on

No receiver had a bigger day in Pittsburgh yesterday than the Steelers' Charles Johnson, who had five catches for 109 yards.

Johnson helped set up the team's first field goal in the first period with 30-yard and 16-yard receptions, and then had a 20-yard catch to set up the team's first touchdown several minutes later.

"We're not known as a big passing team, but we've got some really good receivers on this team," said Pittsburgh quarterback Mike Tomczak. "Today, you got to see one of them in Charles Johnson."

Parting shot

Infante gave his troops a nice send-off yesterday.

"I hope they remember a bunch of guys that never looked for any excuses why they couldn't do things and figured out ways to get things done," he said. "These guys deserve a lot of credit."

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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