Steelers' offense shows up
The Detroit Lions' running backs gained only 57 yards on 15 carries.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' first-team offense saved its preseason best for the opening of the North Shore's new football palace.
After inconsistent performances in the first two games, Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart celebrated Saturday's opening of Heinz Field by engineering a 96-yard scoring march on their first possession.
Running back Jerome Bettis' 1-yard touchdown behind a block thrown by guard-turned-center Jeff Hartings put the Steelers ahead for good in an easy 20-7 victory over the Detroit Lions.
"I think you can take a look at the games and see the progression that we have made on offense from week one to where we are now," said Bettis. "We have a long way to go -- by no means are we there yet."
Cowher pleased: Steelers coach Bill Cowher said he liked how "we overcame some penalties and things. And when you convert some third downs, it's amazing how it makes everything else seem like it's flowing."
Detroit coach Marty Mornhiweg also was impressed. "That was a terrific football game played by the Pittsburgh Steelers [and one] very poorly played by us," said Mornhiweg, whose team was shutout until the game's final 30 seconds.
Stewart said the key was how well the Steelers executed their version of a West-Coast offense.
"It was nice to get the ball out of our hands pretty [quickly]," said Stewart who completed 12 of 15 passes for 135 yards in the first 1 1/2 quarters. "That's what we wanted to do [because] it put the offensive line in a great position.
"And when [the receivers] get the ball fast, it gives them more opportunities to do something after the catch."
Defense: The Steelers' first-team defense also shone after giving up three first downs, then stopping the Lions at midfield on their one first-quarter possession.
After John Jett's 45-yard punt was downed at the Steelers 4, Stewart's first unit went to work against the Lions' best defenders.
On the drive, Stewart completed all eight of his passes. His targets were: Wide receivers Plaxico Burress (17 yards) and Heinz Ward (10 and 13 yards); running backs Bettis (14 yards) and Amos Zereoue (23 and 2 yards); and tight end Mark Bruener (3 and 13 yards).
The Steelers (2-1) also overcame two penalties and a sack on the march.
"We wound up getting the yards back," Stewart said. "First-and-25 can be forever if you don't complete the first pass or make the good run on the next play. We got positive yards on the next [plays]."
Setting up the Bettis touchdown was a third-and-10 shotgun pass to Ward, who spun his way to the 1 while dragging several Lions.
Bettis: Bettis, who gained 24 yards on seven carries in the opening drive, wasn't surprised his day was over in the first quarter.
"That was a 19-play series [counting penalties] and that's usually enough for a quarter-and-a-half," Bettis said. "They pull you out when they feel you have had enough work.
Bettis suggested the fans also need to get into regular-season form.
"The fans will need to get into the game more before the Cleveland game in Week 2. But I understand. If I were a season-ticket holder, I'd be walking around and looking at the Great Hall and everything. But we need them to get louder."
Although the Heinz Field debut was a sellout, there were about 7,000 no-shows for the game played in 80-degree heat.
Late in the first half, Troy Edwards' 28-yard punt return set up Kris Brown's 25-yard field goal that put Pittsburgh up, 10-0.
Maddox: Quarterback Tommy Maddox, who is battling Kent Graham for a backup spot, was the quarterback on that drive. Maddox also engineered two second-half scoring drives for the Steelers other 10 points.
For the 35,000 fans who stuck around for the third quarter, Maddox gave them two plays to cheer.
First, Maddox hit wide receiver Bobby Shaw in stride in the middle of the field for a 44-yard pickup to the Detroit 1.
Then in the fourth quarter, Maddox hooked up with wide receiver Demetrius Brown for a 33-yard sideline touchdown pass and a 20-0 lead.
Rough night: The Lions left Heinz Field with few memories to savor. The Lions running backs gained 57 yards on 15 carries.
Starting quarterback Charlie Batch played into the third quarter, completing 8-of-17 passes for 96 yards.
Rookie Mike McMahon also struggled with five completions in 16 attempts for 78 yards. His final pass, a 39-yarder into the end zone to wide receiver Scotty Anderson produced the Lions' only points.