Bears crushed by the Bus

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- They bolted the snow tires on the Bus yesterday and watched him play hit-and-run with the NFL's best defence.

And when the Pittsburgh Steelers were done smashing apart the Chicago Bears, the victims were splattered all over the winter wonderland that Heinz Field had become.

The 21-9 loss to halt an eight-game winning streak was bad enough for the Bears. But when Jerome (The Bus) Bettis scored his second of two touchdowns, he left wide-load tiretracks all over fearsome linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Steamrolled by Bettis, Urlacher sat on his butt looking like a man wondering what had hit him as the Bus chugged into the end zone for his second of two touchdowns.

"I knew it was him and I knew it was going to be a big hit," said Bettis, who has spent most of the season backing up Willie Parker. "I just tried to play off of it and keep those legs churning. I've made a living off of carrying people.

"That's why they call me the Bus."

Urlacher shrugged off the play but not the end result, a slap for a team that prides itself on playing so physical.

"That's not us," Urlacher said. "That's not the way we play defence."

It was yesterday.

In building up a 9-3 record against for the most part softer NFC foes, the Bears had seemed invincible on D. They had held opponents to just over 10 points per game and were drawing comparisons to the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears.

But this was a road game against a tough AFC team desperate to stay in playoff contention after three consecutive losses. When Pittsburgh scored on its first posssion, it was the first time the Bears had allowed an opening-drive TD in 18 games.

Suddenly, the script changed for a team that had surrendered just five touchdowns in the previous 106 opponents' possessions.

Suddenly, the Bears had to play catchup with a marginal offence based on the dubious talents of rookie quarterback Kyle Orton.

As the snow continued to fall, the Steelers offensive line was able to push around the Bears' defensive front, giving Bettis the head of steam that makes him nearly unstoppable.

"I've always been known as a mudder and the field really played into my favour," said Bettis, who had just 186 yards in the previous 12 games combined.

The Steelers ran for 190 yards in total, but Bettis was the workhorse with 101, the first time he topped the century mark this season.

The Bears were part surprised and part peeved at being the poundee rather than the pounder.

True, they were without strong safety Mike Brown because of injury, but ultimately they lost the game in the trenches.

"You can't let a back like Jerome Bettis get going," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

"It's going to be a long game when you play like that."

With the loss and a Minnesota win over St. Louis, the Bears lead over the streaking Vikings has suddenly been reduced to one game in the NFC North.

While the playoff prospects still look good for the Bears (9-4), they are much more dodgy for the Steelers (8-5).

With the Bengals squeaking out a last-second win against the Cleveland Browns yesterday, it will be very difficult for the Steelers to capture their division. They likely are stuck in the wild AFC wild-card race.

"We've underachieved and we've put ourselves in this position," Bettis said. "We're a desperate team and we're going to play like it for the rest of the season."


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