Bettis doesn't think it's end of line for him _ or Steelers' season

Updated: October 22, 2003, 7:06 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Jerome Bettis is in the Pittsburgh Steelers' lineup for the first time this season and he wants to show there's something left in his career.

Bettis is the 10th-leading rusher in NFL history but he has spent most of the season standing on the sideline, an unwilling observer as the Steelers have struggled to do what they traditionally do best: run the ball.

So, with the Steelers (2-4) fourth from the bottom in rushing only two years after easily leading the NFL, they're going back to basics -- and back to Bettis for Sunday's important game against the St. Louis Rams (4-2).

"Not picking sides or anything, but it's good to see him back there," lineman Alan Faneca said Wednesday. "You feel good for him that he's getting his opportunity to prove himself again because people have kind of been talking about how he's at the end of his career."

Bettis ran for 1,000 or more yards in each of his first six seasons with the Steelers after being traded by the Rams in 1996. That streak ended when he was held to 666 yards in 2002.

With the 31-year-old Bettis' durability in question following 10 years of constant pounding and injury-interrupted seasons in 2001 and 2002, the Steelers handed his starting job to the faster, quicker Amos Zereoue three weeks before the season began.

The demotion rankled Bettis, who needs only 643 yards to pass Jim Brown and become the No. 6 rusher in NFL history, but he refused to criticize it.

"Whenever you have expectations higher than the way you're playing, it's difficult," said Bettis, who has only 128 yards in six games. "It's been tough because you know you can help the football team, but you're not getting the opportunities."

No longer concerned that the Steelers would control the tempo with their running game -- Zereoue is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry -- defenses have mostly played Cover 2 schemes in which the safeties stay deep in pass coverage. That's meant receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward often are double-teamed, one reason why Tommy Maddox was intercepted eight times in the first five games.

If Bettis can resemble the back who once was the NFL's premier power runner, it may force defenses to play less Cover 2 so the safeties can move up to provide run support.

"The way the offense is going, the offensive line is banged up, so you're got to take that three yards, that four yards and be happy with it and not look to break too many long ones," Bettis said.

What even Bettis doesn't know is how many runs he's got left in him, long or short. He's had only one 100-yard game since Nov. 12, 2001, against the Bengals early last season, and he's rushed for more than 80 yards only once in his last 16 games.

With the 255-pound Bettis no longer getting the repeated carries he needs to wear down defenses, he has been held to 14 or fewer yards four times this season and in six of eight games. During that span, which includes two playoff games, he's averaged only 2.6 yards on 53 carries.

"That's the tough part about sports," Bettis said. "There's always going to come that time when the success is fleeting and the fan support is not there and the support from the team is not there. That's a tough and a difficult time you have to deal with ... (but) you have to just keep going forward and believe in yourself."

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