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American Football: Roethlisberger the rookie has nerves of steel

Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a claim for a Super Bowl challenge by ending the perfect record of the New England Patriots. On Sunday, to prove it was no fluke, they repeated the trick by destroying the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles 27-3.

The Eagles, the last team in the NFL to taste defeat, were simply overwhelmed by their Pennsylvania rivals, who dominated all aspects of the contest. Without their running back, the former Eagle Duce Staley, Pittsburgh turned instead to the veteran Jerome Bettis, and he enjoyed his best performance in three years with 149 rushing yards.

Bettis represents the old, but it is the new that is causing the bigger stir in the steel city. The rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was again outstanding, making all the right reads as he guided his side to an early 21-point lead with the poise of a veteran.

Since replacing the injured Tommy Maddox, the youngster has won all six of his starts, demonstrating the command and experience that has led many to liken him to a young Dan Marino.

"He's remarkable," the Philadelphia linebacker Mark Simoneau admitted. "He doesn't look like a rookie, he looks like a guy who's been around four or five years. He made plays all day long."

Having been bewitched by Roethlisberger last week, the Patriots returned to health by thrashing St Louis 40-22 in Missouri. The defending Super Bowl champions bewildered their opponents, with even the kicker Adam Vinatieri throwing a touchdown pass on a fake field goal attempt.

Both New York teams were undone by unfancied rivals. The Jets were brought down to earth in Buffalo, where the powerful running of Willis McGahee ensured a 22-17 Bills win, while the Giants were surprisingly toppled at home by the injury-plagued Chicago Bears, 28-21.

The big play of the weekend came in Baltimore, where the Ravens' Ed Reed set a record with a 106-yard interception return for a touchdown in the home side's 27-13 triumph over the Cleveland Browns.

The play came at a crucial time, with the Browns threatening to tie the scores late on. Reed, however, correctly read the intentions of the Cleveland quarterback, Jeff Garcia, and his record-setting return made matters safe.

"He seems to always be around when you need it," said Reed's head coach Brian Billick.