- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Guess which NFL team has the best record since last Thanksgiving. Green Bay? Nope. Baltimore? Sorry. The Giants? Three strikes and you're out. Try Pittsburgh.
Yes, the team with Kordell "Shield Your Eyes While I Throw" Stewart at quarterback is 9-2 in its past 11 games. The 4-1 Steelers, surprise leaders of the AFC Central, welcome defending division champion Tennessee Monday to the first nationally televised game at Heinz Field.
Burly runner Jerome Bettis is still the heart of a basic offense that has produced at least 200 yards rushing in three consecutive games for the first time in 25 years and the fiery Bill "Jutjaw" Cowher is in his 10th season as Steelers coach.
However, the defense has been revamped since Pittsburgh's last playoff appearance in 1997. Rod Woodson, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Carnell Lake, Joel Steed and Greg Lloyd, the Pro Bowl defenders who paced the Steelers to six postseason appearances from 1992 to 1997, are all gone. Cowher and coordinator Tim Lewis have rebuilt the defense with a mixture of recent draft picks (end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Kendrick Clancy and linebackers Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell), free agent signees (end Kimo Von Oehlhoffen, cornerback DeWayne Washington and safety Brent Alexander) and holdovers from the playoff run (linebackers Jason Gildon and Earl Holmes, corner Chad Scott and safety Lee Flowers). Pittsburgh leads the AFC with 11.6 points allowed per game and is second in the league in total defense and pass defense. The Steelers have yet to be scored on in the first or third quarters.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Bettis is on his way to a fifth Pro Bowl with 550 yards (a staggering 5.9 per carry) for the NFL's top ground attack (197.6 yards per game). Bettis, whose 5,832 rushing yards the past four-plus years are an NFL high (36 yards ahead of the Titans' Eddie George), has been especially good on Mondays. Bettis has eight 100-yard outings in nine Monday games, second only to the 12 by Dallas' Emmitt Smith in 25 games.
"Jerome's making cuts I haven't seen him make since 1996," Cowher said.
After losing their opener at Jacksonville and having the next two weeks off, the Steelers have won four straight, including Sunday's 17-10 victory at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium where the Bucs had been 21-5. The Steelers held potent Buccaneers runners Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott to a combined 46 yards on 16 carries while tying a team record with 10 sacks, four by Porter and three by Von Oehlhoffen.
"We don't feel we've really accomplished much," said Cowher, whose Steelers have yet to beat a foe that's currently above .500. "We've created an opportunity for ourselves, but we've got five division games the next five weeks."
Trivia time How many Steelers remain from the 1995 Super Bowl team? (Answer below).
NFC Least It's still the worst division, a collective seven games under .500. However, the NFC East was 3-1 last week, its best weekend in a year. Arizona and Washington won non-division games. Dallas was idle and Philadelphia edged New York. And five of the past six games involving NFC East teams have gone down to the wire.
(Un-Happy) Valley Ranch The Cowboys haven't lost a game in almost three weeks, but all is far from well in Dallas. Linebacker Darren Hambrick and cornerback Kareem Larrimore were cut on Tuesday. Hambrick's biggest offense was missing time in voluntary minicamps last spring. The Cowboys had fined Larrimore 11 times and suspended him once the last two years for various offenses ranging from being late to training camp to missing curfew. Larrimore also tested positive for marijuana at the 2000 scouting combine.
With Clint Stoerner due to make his first start Sunday against the Cardinals, second-year coach Dave Campo will have had nearly as many starting quarterbacks (five) as victories (six). Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the man who was supposed to still be the quarterback, Troy Aikman, reportedly had a heated argument at Texas Stadium before the Oct. 15 victory over the Redskins.
Aikman was heard raising his voice more than once while Jones was heard to say, "I'm sorry about this." Aikman was upset about a USA Today story in which Jones said he didn't expect his ailing star's retirement in April.
Aikman didn't retire until after Jones had cut him because of salary cap woes.
Trivia answer Five: Stewart, Flowers, Gildon, backup safety Myron Bell and tight end Mark Bruener. Only Bruener started in the 27-17 loss to Dallas.

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