Steelers ride three Bus touchdowns into playoffs

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jerome Bettis acted like a man ready to
retire. He received two standing ovations, signed dozens of jerseys
and footballs for his teammates and posed for pictures on the field
for a half-hour after the game ended.

What Bettis hopes is the Pittsburgh Steelers delay his
anticipated retirement for four more games.

Bettis matched his career high with three touchdown runs in what
likely was his final game in Pittsburgh and the Steelers overcame
some sloppy defense to beat the Detroit Lions 35-21 Sunday,
securing their 10th playoff appearance in 14 seasons under coach
Bill Cowher.

The Steelers (11-5) will play AFC North champion Cincinnati, a
37-3 loser to Kansas City, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in a wild-card game.
Pittsburgh won at Cincinnati 27-13 on Oct. 23, but effectively lost
the division title with a 38-31 loss to the Bengals in Pittsburgh
on Dec. 4.

"We play them twice a year and we know them," Hines Ward said.
"We'll take our chances going to Cincinnati. ... It's not going to
be easy, but we're more comfortable with them."

Pittsburgh avoided a playoff rematch with New England when the
Patriots lost 28-26 to Miami. The Steelers lost AFC championship
games at home to the Patriots last season and during the 2001

"It didn't make any difference to me who we play," safety Troy Polamalu said. "We have unfinished business with both of them."

Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, said last week
he wanted to "do something special" if this was his final home
game. He had only 41 yards -- Willie Parker ran for 135 -- but scored
on runs of 1, 5 and 4 yards to help the Steelers overcome an early
14-7 deficit.

Bettis could think of only one better way to end his career --
playing in the Super Bowl for the first time.

"I told the guys, `We've got to get there -- I'm running out of
time," said the 33-year-old Bettis, who came back this season
mostly for the chance to play in the Super Bowl in his Detroit

Still, the Steelers' challenge is a big one. No sixth-seeded
team has made it to a conference championship game, much less the
Super Bowl, since the NFL's present playoff format was adopted in
1990. To get there, the Steelers might have to beat the Bengals,
Colts and Patriots, all on the road.

"But I think if any team could do it, it's this team," said
Polamalu, who thinks the Steelers are playing better now than a
year ago, when they were top-seeded after winning their final 14.
"Maybe that's why our season has gone the way it has."

The Steelers allowed Joey Harrington to throw three touchdown
passes after giving up only one touchdown and 12 points in their
previous three games, but won their fourth in a row following a
three-game skid. The Lions (5-11) finished their fifth consecutive
losing season with six losses in seven games.

This wasn't the kind of game the Steelers wanted to take into
the playoffs -- Ben Roethlisberger was only 7-of-16 for 135 yards
and threw his first two interceptions in four games -- but Bettis
supplied an emotional lift.

"It was his day," Ward said.

For a team that needed to win to make the playoffs, the Steelers
seemed to lack desperation after Antwaan Randle El scored on an
81-yard punt return less than two minutes into the game. Harrington
threw scoring passes of 12 yards to Marcus Pollard and 1 yard to
Cory Schlesinger to put the Lions up 14-7.

"We gave them a game, gave them a little scare, but it wasn't
enough," Lions coach Dick Jauron said.

Bettis scored the Steelers' next three touchdowns, celebrating
the final one early in the third quarter by waving his arms to
encourage a long, loud standing ovation from the crowd of 63,794.

When the Lions cut it to 28-21 on Harrington's 15-yard TD pass
to Roy Williams, the Steelers starters stayed in and Bettis
returned to the game, getting several more ovations and two video
tributes on the Heinz Field scoreboard. His final carry was a
4-yard run to the Steelers 41 with 3:10 to play, giving him 13,662
yards in his career.

Like Bettis, the Lions have decisions to make. Among them is
whether to bring back Jauron, who replaced Steve Mariucci when the
Lions were 4-7, and Harrington, a former first-round draft pick.

"A big part of me wants to stay and right what we started, but
there's another part that wants to go somewhere else and get a
fresh start," Harrington said. "Two months ago, the consensus was
I should have been on the first thing smoking coming out of town."

Game notes
Parker, an undrafted rookie in 2004, finished with 1,202
yards, the most by a Steelers running back since Bettis' 1,341-yard
season in 2000. ... Detroit is 0-10 in Pittsburgh since 1955. ...
The Steelers' defensive players wore throwback Lions No. 44 Dick
LeBeau jerseys to honor their defensive coordinator, a former star
cornerback. ... Bettis also ran for three touchdowns against
Arizona in 1997 and the Raiders last season.