Ward jump-starts Steelers
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- On Eagles' wings the Steelers soared, and it all started with Hines Ward.
Ward, the Pittsburgh Steelers veteran receiver, threw his own end zone party, and Terrell Owens wasn't invited.
Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles flamboyant receiver, has drawn up creative end zone celebrations across NFL stadiums this season, but on Sunday he wasn't the center of attention.
"We wanted to shut him down the best we could, so he wouldn't be doing the dances on us," said Steelers safety Russell Stuvaints, a former Youngstown State standout. "We can't let that happen at Heinz Field."
Instead, all eyes were on Ward, whose two first-quarter touchdowns jump-started the Steelers and vaulted them past the Eagles 27-3.
Sending a message
"Coach [Bill] Cowher got us pumped up in the pre-game meal, telling us we were underdogs in our own house," Stuvaints said. "You want to come out and play your best."
In capturing their sixth straight game, the Steelers (7-1) became the first team in NFL history to beat undefeated opponents (with at least six wins) in consecutive weeks. They snapped the Patriots' 21-game winning streak on Oct. 31.
"The last two weeks it's been like a playoff atmosphere, and you can't take away from the magnitude of it," Cowher said. "But we understand it's still only the eighth game of the season."
Ward's end zone pageantry was just as dynamic as his two touchdowns, which came on a 16-yard end-around run and a 20-yard reception from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"When I got to the 5, I wasn't going to be denied going into the end zone," said Ward of his first career touchdown run in which he hurdled into the end zone.
Each time he scored, Ward flapped his arms in a good-natured mocking gesture of Owens, who last week in Baltimore imitated Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' dance.
"I wasn't trying to show him up," said Ward, who spoke with Owens before the game and later complimented the receiver's ability. "I see him having fun when he's doing it. What better way to do it than while he's out there?"
Held in check
Owens didn't seem to be having much fun, though.
Held to seven harmless catches for 53 yards, he was seen on the sideline barking at unresponsive Eagles (7-1) quarterback Donovan McNabb during the first half. The two struggled all game to lead Philadelphia's offense, which managed a meager 113 total yards.
"We wanted to pressure him," Cowher said of McNabb, who was held to 109 yards passing and no touchdowns. "If he has time, he's going to pick you apart. We didn't allow him to get into a rhythm."
That was mainly because the Steelers controlled the ball (for 41 minutes, 49 seconds) and kept it out of McNabb's hands, running 76 plays to the Eagles' 37.
For Cowher, that was the most decisive factor.
Asked how the Steelers held Owens in check, Cowher said, "We ran left and we ran right on offense. Our best defense today was our running game. We controlled the clock."
That credit goes to veteran Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who proved his worth while starting in place of the injured Duce Staley (hamstring).
Bettis carried 33 times for 149 yards, his highest total since running for 163 yards in 2001 against the Browns.
"We didn't give up on Jerome. He made this team for a reason," Ward said. "To me, this is still Jerome Bettis' team. I respect him so much with the way he's handled everything."