Linebacker kept up the pressure
By Aaron Harlan, Globe Correspondent | November 1, 2004

PITTSBURGH -- He tried to play it off as if it was no big deal, as if these three-sack, two forced-fumble days come around just about every Sunday.


But Steelers linebacker Joey Porter didn't keep the act up for long.

"We kept hitting [Tom Brady]," Porter said, still serious. "Even when we didn't get sacks, we still got pressure.

The more Porter talked, though, the more excited he got. He couldn't help it. A wide smile spread across Porter's face as he added one more thought about a day when he -- and the entire Pittsburgh defense -- kept Brady running and scrambling and falling.

"We kept hitting him. And he didn't like that at all."

For good reason, too. In yesterday's 34-20 win against New England at Heinz Field, Porter turned into a pass-rushing demon. He led the Steelers in nearly every defensive category. He had eight tackles. The three sacks and two forced fumbles. Heck, he even broke up a pass.

It seemed almost merciful, then, that New England possessed the ball for just 17 minutes yesterday. After all, the only time Porter slowed down, he was on the sideline watching the Steelers' offense.

"The game he had today, that's one of the best performances I've ever seen since I've been here," fellow linebacker James Farrior said. "He had a great day. You guys have been on him a lot, calling him a bad guy and stuff. But it just shows, he's still going out there playing his best."

Indeed, Porter's been alternately inconsistent and controversial in the last 1 1/2 years. Before the 2003 season, Porter was struck in the buttocks by a stray bullet while at a Colorado bar. Based on his performance last year -- a season in which he lacked his traditional big-play tendencies -- he recovered slowly from the accident.

Earlier this season, Porter drew criticism for a hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap. As Baltimore attempted to spike the ball in a game Sept. 19, Heap, injured seconds earlier, hobbled into place so the Ravens could run the play. Porter shoved Heap to the ground, and Heap writhed in pain.

"People are giving him a hard time and writing things about him, but we watch him on film, we see what he can do," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "And once a great pass rusher gets on a roll, it's hard to stop."

With New England's Corey Dillon injured, the Patriots turned into a team with only one option -- throw. Every play. In all, New England called just six running plays, which produced just 5 yards.

That allowed Porter to get going. He knew the Patriots' strategy. He also knew his job: Get to the quarterback.

"When they pass the ball," Porter said, "you have a quarterback like Brady who's not going to run out of the pocket. You can kind of rush any way you want to. I was trying to take advantage of my opportunities."

Said Steelers coach Bill Cowher: "Joey played a very inspired game."

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.