Archive for Monday, October 29, 2001

Titans visit Steelers

Three Rivers advantage gone

October 29, 2001


— A familiar sight will be missing when the Pittsburgh Steelers play their first Monday night home game in two years. The only question is whether the Steelers or the Tennessee Titans will miss it more.

Three Rivers Stadium opened in 1970, the same year ABC began telecasting weekly NFL games in prime time, and it was among the most inhospitable of venues for visiting teams during much of its 31 seasons.

The Steelers won their last eight Monday games there and were 18-7 overall on Mondays, while going 182-73 in Three Rivers, which was imploded in February as construction on adjacent Heinz Field neared completion.

But count the Titans among the few teams that would have preferred to see the Steelers hang around Three Rivers a couple more seasons. The Titans (2-3) won their last three games there and have won seven in a row over Pittsburgh since 1997.

This uncharacteristic loss of their homefield advantage is one reason the Steelers are eager to make Heinz Field into what Three Rivers was until a few years ago loud and unfriendly, a stadium in which opposing teams find it difficult just to hear, much less to win.

"I expect it to be out of control Monday night, incredibly loud," Jerome Bettis said. "We've given them a reason to cheer and to be excited."

The Steelers (4-1) are off to their best start since they were 5-1 in 1996 and have done it almost exclusively on the road, winning three of four. The terrorist attacks postponed their scheduled Sept. 16 game against Cleveland, so their only home game was a 16-7 victory over Cincinnati on Oct. 7.

To mark the occasion of their first prime-time game in Heinz Field, the Steelers will unveil two huge ketchup bottle signs that will light up and tilt as if they were pouring when the Steelers move the ball inside the 20 (the red zone, get it?).

Of course, moving the ball into scoring position isn't something the Steelers do with regularity against the Titans, who have beaten them by scores such as 9-7, 16-10 and 16-6 during that seven-game winning streak.

One reason is the Titans have shut down Bettis, holding him below 90 yards in eight consecutive games since 1996. But none of those games was on a Monday; Bettis has gone over 100 yards eight times in his nine Monday games with Pittsburgh.

Bettis is off to his best start, with four 100-yard games, and the Steelers easily have the NFL's best rushing offense, averaging 197.6 yards nearly 40 yards more than any other team. Bettis had 143 yards at Tampa Bay a week ago.

"The Steelers are saying we're going to run it, you've got to stop it," Titans running back Eddie George said.

"They've been very successful doing that, even against good teams."

George and Bettis are the NFL's two leading rushers over the last five years but, slowed by an ankle injury and toe surgery, George has been held to 290 yards on 106 carries.

George's inability to run as he is accustomed has put additional pressure on quarterback Steve McNair to drive an offense that was held to a combined 13 points in consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Baltimore during an 0-3 Titans start.

Tennessee's defense, depleted by injuries and off-season defections, also has slipped to 26th overall after being top-ranked last season. However, the Titans expect to welcome back cornerback Samari Rolle, who has missed two games with a bruised spinal cord.

Free safety Blaine Bishop (foot) also could play, although he did not practice as much as Rolle did last week.

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