Steelers 27, Eagles 3
For the second time in seven days, the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated an undefeated opponent from start to finish, quickly rolling to a three-touchdown lead early in the second quarter and rocking the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-3, for their sixth straight victory Sunday at Heinz Field.
A week after helping snap the New England Patriots' record unbeaten streak at 21 games on the same field, rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes and veteran wide receiver Hines Ward scored on an end-around, all on the Steelers' first three possessions. Their defense allowed the Eagles (7-1) only three first downs and 47 yards of total offense in the first half.
With only 113 yards all day, Philadelphia never remotely threatened as the Steelers became the first team in league history to beat undefeated teams with at least six victories in consecutive games.
"The best defense we had today was our offense," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, whose offense held the ball for almost 42 minutes and ran for 252 yards, including 149 from 32-year-old Jerome Bettis. "We controlled the clock. . . . We're not that much better a team. We just got some momentum and we were able to hold it."
A stadium record crowd of 64,975 celebrated on a day when the Steelers organization marked the 25th anniversary of its 1979 Super Bowl title team, and the 21st century Steelers showed championship potential in a game billed around the league as a possible Super Bowl preview.
The Steelers, one of three 7-1 teams (with Philadelphia and New England), managed to win without their best running back. Duce Staley, a former Eagle who hopped across the state in free agency, was scratched after pulling a hamstring in Friday's practice. But the absence of the league's seventh leading rusher -- he has 707 yards this year -- was hardly noticed, not with Bettis chugging up and down the field with his best running effort since 2001.
"It's one of those games where you get the opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong," said Bettis after his first start this season. "I'm just happy I can come in and do my part. I told the coach afterward that 'this is the reason I'm still here. This is the reason you kept me here, and I wasn't going to prove you wrong.' "
The Eagles haven't been embarrassed like this since they lost the NFC championship game at home against Carolina last season. And for the first time this season, loquacious wide receiver Terrell Owens (seven catches for 53 yards) was caught by TV cameras yapping at quarterback Donovan McNabb on the sideline, though both insisted Owens was merely trying to encourage his teammate.
"That was just me trying to fire him up a little bit, pick his head up," said Owens, held without a touchdown pass for only the second time this season. "Donovan is obviously a competitor, and I am, too. It's going to be like that sometimes. We both try to pick each other up."
"He was trying to calm me down," said McNabb, who was sacked four times, completed only 15 passes and had one interception, with a 55.7 passer rating. "When things aren't happening, you get frustrated. He was there telling me to be positive. I'm usually the guy telling people to stay confident. Today, he was that guy."
From the start, the Steelers were certain they would be the team to ensure that the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect season (17-0) would not be matched by the Eagles.
On his second carry, Bettis rumbled off tackle for 16 yards, and his offensive line was so effective, Cowher described his decision to go for a first down on fourth and one at the Eagles 40 as a "no brainer." Bettis got it on a six-yard run, and four plays later, the Steelers were in the end zone on Ward's 16-yard run with an end around, the perfect call against Philadelphia's blitz.
Ward had a little fun afterward when he struck an Owens-like pose, bending down and flapping his arms as Owens has been doing all season after scoring. Ward did it again on the Steelers' next possession, this time after his 20-yard touchdown catch on third and four for a 14-0 Pittsburgh lead with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter.
"He's the best wide receiver in the game," Ward said. "I wasn't trying to show him up. I see him having fun when he's doing it. What better way to do it than when he's out there? It's all fun and games, and it got the fans a little more into it. . . . We're not letting teams dictate to us. . . . No one expected us to do what we've done except us."
Not many thought the Steelers could dismantle two of the best teams in the league on successive Sundays, particularly with a rookie quarterback at the helm. But Roethlisberger, 6-0 as a starter, was unflappable and tied a rookie record set in 1976 by former Steelers quarterback Mike Kruczek for opening his career with six straight wins.
His poise was evident on the Steelers' third score. Sensing yet another blitz on second and goal at the 2, Roethlisberger rolled out to his right and for a moment looked as if he might try to run it in. At the last second, he slowed and aimed a perfect strike to wide open tight end Jay Riemersma for a touchdown that opened a 21-0 lead with 10:51 left in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger completed 11 of 18 passes for 183 yards in the game, and would have had a third touchdown pass if receiver Plaxico Burress, running free toward the Eagles end zone early in the third quarter, hadn't fumbled after knocking the ball out of his own hands. He recovered, but the Steelers failed to score when Jeff Reid missed a 33-yard field-goal attempt.
It hardly mattered, as Eagles Coach Andy Reid acknowledged.
"We did terrible," he said, "and they did good."