DENVER - Every so often over the past 15 years or so, hard-hitting Broncos safety John Lynch has had to gird up for a confrontation - a rite of passage is more like it - that almost every defender must face at some point in his career.
Tackling Jerome Bettis.
"They're all memorable when they're against him," Lynch said of the hits and punishment he and Bettis have dished to each other over the years, both in college and the pros. "You've just got to bring a lot because you know he's carrying a lot."
Denver defensive lineman Gerard Warren, who faced Bettis twice a year during his seasons in Cleveland, describes Pittsburgh's big fella as "a bowling ball rolling down hill." Domonique Foxworth, a rookie cornerback from Maryland, concedes "we never saw anyone quite that big in the ACC."
If form holds, though, Foxworth, Lynch, Warren and all the Broncos will see Bettis about 15 times Sunday when the Steelers come to town for the AFC title game. Most of those encounters will come in short-yardage situations or near the goal line. Some might come with a win or loss hanging in the balance.
Coach Mike Shanahan's tip: "It's got to be a group effort."
Barring moving a 270-pound offensive lineman onto the scout team, there is no real way for the Broncos to emulate Bettis this week in practice. And even if a lineman would make the move, he probably couldn't make the moves Bettis does.
"Anytime you've got a back listed at 265 who's probably 280 and still has nimble feet like a 225-pound guy, it's going to take more than one guy to take him down," Broncos defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. "He's got great size and great feet. That's the combination that makes it so difficult. That's what makes him so special."
Last week, with the Steelers on the goal line, Indianapolis adjusted just in time to force Bettis' first fumble of the season, which almost led to a disastrous finish for Pittsburgh.
As everyone knows now, Bettis got a reprieve, got a chance to extend his career another game and probably wants to make amends for what could have been one of the most embarrassing slip-ups in NFL playoff history.
Next up on the schedule: the Broncos.
"You know what you're getting when the Bus is on the field," Warren said. "You want him to run sideways. Otherwise, you've got to get him down before he gets started. Once he gets moving, he's a hell of a load to bring down."
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