PITTSBURGH -- A whole lot of Jerome Bettis and Plaxico Burress and a new-found bag of tricks kept the surprising Pittsburgh Steelers in first place -- and put the Tennessee Titans in big, big trouble.
Bettis ran for two short-range touchdowns and the Steelers, helped by some grievous errors by Tennessee reserve defensive back Perry Phenix and the Titans secondary, ended a nearly four-year losing streak against the Titans with an unexpectedly one-sided 34-7 victory Monday night.
A Pittsburgh offense that was Bettis, Bettis and more Bettis until Monday showed off some surprising new wrinkles as the Steelers (5-1) stayed atop the AFC Central by beating the defending champion Tennessee (2-4) for the first time in eight games since 1997.
The Steelers ran kicker Kris Brown, a former high school quarterback, for a first down on a fake field goal, and had wide receiver Hines Ward -- also a former QB -- throw a pass into the end zone that fell just beyond Burress.
But their best trick was getting the long-missing Burress, their 2000 first-round draft choice and a huge disappointment until now, heavily involved in an offense in which Kordell Stewart picked on the NFL's next-to-worst pass defense for only his second 200-yard game in two years. Stewart was 13-of-22 for 232 yards, threw for a touchdown and ran for another.
''Those guys built some confidence early in the game, and it kept on building,'' Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.
Bettis didn't get to 100 yards -- he got 62 yards as Tennessee held him below 100 yards for the ninth straight time-- but Burress did, making six catches for 151 yards in his first career 100-yard game. He punctuated every catch by dropping to his knee and signaling a first down as the Steelers improved to 9-0 in Monday night home games under Cowher.
''I just decided to go out and play relaxed this time,'' Burress said. ''I just kind of let the game come to me. I caught a couple of balls early and really seemed to get into the flow.''
Burress' best catch, a 43-yarder early in the third quarter that set up Bettis' second touchdown run, was a ball he stole out of the hands of cornerback Samari Rolle and Phenix.
Phenix is on his second tour of duty with Tennessee this season after being cut by Carolina and Cleveland. Phenix was playing only because Blaine Bishop was injured again -- and, judging from Titans coach Jeff Fisher's look of disgust and angry words when Phenix gave the ball away, he might not be playing for them by next week.
Bishop, who had a left foot injury, attempted to play, but fractured his hand and may need surgery. The Titans will learn more about his condition Tuesday.
Phenix's biggest mistake came when he was called for a drive-extending personal foul penalty on a third-and-9 play in the second quarter with the score tied at 7.
Rather than attempting a 52-yard field goal or punting, the Steelers got a first down at the Titans 20, and it took them only four plays to score as Stewart hit Bobby Shaw for 19 yards ahead of a 3-yard scoring pass to Ward that made it 14-7.
''Even though we're 5-1, people found fault with our passing game,'' Ward said. ''We've taken some heat for not being able to make big plays, but I think we showed tonight we can throw the ball, too.''
With Eddie George hobbling on a hyperextended left knee that limited him to 13 yards on 10 carries, the Titans didn't have enough offense to keep up as Steve McNair went 14-of-27 for 175 yards and was intercepted twice.
''Right now, we're a team that has to do everything right to win, and we're not doing it,'' Fisher said.
The Steelers, who had easily driven down the field on their opening possession for Bettis' 1-yard touchdown run, pushed it to 17-7 at the half on Brown's 42-yard field goal just before halftime. Brown kept that drive going by running for 6 yards on a fourth-and-5 play, but wound up kicking a field goal anyway.
Pittsburgh also scored on its opening drive of the second half, with Burress' stolen catch setting up Bettis' 7-yard touchdown run. Brown later kicked another field goal, and Stewart scored on a 2-yard run before leaving early in the fourth quarter.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.