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Thursday, December 13
Bettis misses practice, downgraded to doubtful

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Apparently, the Bus stops here.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was downgraded from questionable to doubtful Thursday with a sore groin. There is almost no chance he will play Sunday in Baltimore.

Bettis ran for the second day in a row, but did not practice, and thus couldn't convince coach Bill Cowher he is ready to play. If Bettis sits, it will be the first time in his nine-year NFL career he has missed consecutive games due to injury.

"Certainly, if this was a playoff game and there was no tomorrow, we would have to re-evaluate that decision," Cowher said. "But that's not the case and I believe the risk far outweighs the reward at this point."

The Steelers (10-2), who currently have the AFC's best record, lead the Ravens (8-4) by two games in the AFC Central and can clinch the division by winning. Even if they lose, they would leave Baltimore with a one-game lead with three games to play.

Bettis seemed disappointed with the decision, but wouldn't debate it.

"He told me at practice, and you can't argue with the head coach," Bettis said.

Bettis pleaded publicly with Cowher for several days last week to play, then was told by the coach to no longer discuss the injury. Asked if he would be playing if the Steelers and Ravens were tied in the standings, Bettis said, "That's a good question. You never know what goes through the mind of a genius."

Then, realizing the comment could be interpreted as a sarcastic rebuke of Cowher, Bettis said, "That's just a phrase."

By sitting out, Bettis' chances of winning his first NFL rushing title would be significantly decreased. He led the league for several weeks before falling out of the lead last week.

"From that standpoint it is frustrating to have an injury, especially when you've been going through the season so smoothly," said Bettis, who ran for 1,072 yards in the Steelers' first 11 games.

Bettis' replacement would again be Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who at 255 pounds is the same size as Bettis, but lacks his quick feet and cutback ability.

Fuamatu-Ma'afala replaced the injured Bettis to run for 74 yards in the fourth quarter Dec. 2 against Minnesota, but was held to 50 yards on 21 carries in an 18-7 victory Sunday over the Jets. He also scored the Steelers' only touchdown on a 1-yard run.

"The Jets were a good defense and there wasn't too much room in there, and it will be even tougher now with the Ravens' defense," Fuamatu-Ma'afala said. "They've got two big guys clogging everything and the rest of the guys cover the whole field.

"Hopefully, I can go out there and be a little bit more relaxed, take my time a little bit more. You watch Jerome out there making those unbelievable cuts, and I'm just trying to get to that point."

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