Porter returns to Denver for first time since shooting

Updated: October 12, 2003, 6:59 PM ET
ESPN

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter returns to Denver this weekend for the first time since being shot there six weeks ago. Don't look for him to drop by any sports bars.

"I'm going to be where I'm supposed to be," Porter said. "This is a business trip. It's not like on Saturday nights we go out anyway. I'll get some dinner, probably in the hotel, and get ready for the game."

Pittsburgh (2-3), coming off consecutive one-sided losses at home, plays Sunday at Denver (4-1) in what several Steelers say is a pivotal game. If only for that reason, Porter will be much too busy to spend much time thinking about his last trip to Denver.

Porter was shot outside a sports bar several hours after the Colorado State-Colorado game on Aug. 30. A former Colorado State player, Porter went to the bar with some former college friends and was standing in a parking lot with about 150 others when the shooting took place.

The 9-millimeter bullet struck Porter in the buttocks and lodged in his right thigh before being removed by the Steelers' team doctor two days later. The Steelers initially feared Porter might miss half the season, but his wounds healed so quickly he missed only two games.

The shooting left one dead and wounded five others, including Porter, who was described by police as an innocent bystander. Porter has not talked to police since that weekend.

"I didn't see nothing, so there's nothing I can tell them," Porter said. "I told them I was hit. There was nothing else I saw. I gave them my statement that day. That's all I remember."

Despite his quick return to the lineup, Porter has yet to start playing like he did last season, when he became the first NFL player to have nine sacks and four interceptions in a season. He has one sack and nine tackles in three games, and has yet to make more than four tackles in a game.

But Porter is hardly to blame for the Steelers' ongoing problems with controlling offenses that use four-receiver sets, which often force Porter and linebacker Kendrell Bell to drop into pass coverage.

Porter hasn't complained about being used as essentially an extra defensive back, though it takes away from his ability to pass rush.

"I'm doing what the defense asks me. I don't keep track or a chart of how many times I rushed or how many times I dropped," Porter said. "He calls it, I haul it, it's as simple as that."

What isn't proving as simple is fixing a Steelers defense that has allowed 30 or more points three times after doing so eight times last season. Coach Bill Cowher says the Steelers are blitzing as often as they did a year ago, but they have only nine sacks in five games after having 50 sacks last season.

Here's the anomaly: the Steelers' defense is top-ranked in the league, mostly because teams are scoring so fast they're not piling up lots of yards. Also, the Steelers have allowed four touchdowns on returns, three on interceptions, and another interception was returned to their 1 and was quickly converted into a touchdown.

The Steelers are allowing 25.8 points per game, the ninth worst average in the league.

Porter won't say if he thinks blitzing more might prove disruptive to opposing quarterbacks, who have completed 35 of 41 passes for four touchdowns in the Steelers' last two games.

TV cameras caught Porter yelling, "Take off the shackles" during Sunday night's 33-13 loss at home to Cleveland, but he denies he wanted defensive coordinator Tim Lewis to call more blitzes.

"It doesn't matter what defense is called, it's up to everyone to go out there and stop them from making offensive plays," he said. "That's the scheme, period. I don't go out there and complain about a defensive play. I don't have any defenses for me. Nobody has a certain defense. You're rushing or you're dropping. Game, set, match."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index