<
>

Parker breaks Steelers' single-game record with 223 rushing yards

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh Steelers running backs are supposed
to be big and strong, rugged and durable, perfect symbols like
Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris of a tough-as-it-gets franchise.
Willie Parker is much different, and he finds himself in their
record book because of it.

Parker, a speed back in an offense built around power, broke the
Steelers' single-game rushing record with 223 yards -- a game better
than either Harris or Bettis enjoyed -- and Pittsburgh excelled as
usual in cold weather by roughing up the offense-less Cleveland
Browns 27-7 Thursday night.

Parker, the first player in Steelers history to have two
200-yard games in a season, broke John "Frenchy" Fuqua's record
of 218 yards against Philadelphia in 1970, two years before Fuqua
was the intended receiver on Harris' famous Immaculate Reception
against Oakland.

"I don't know too much about him, though Coach [Dick] Hoak has
told me all about him," said Parker, referring to the running
backs coach who coached both backs. "This [record] was nice, but
all those accolades come -- and then they go. The best thing was the
win."

Parker, the fastest running back in Steelers history and the
first since Bettis in 2000-01 with consecutive 1,000 yards, broke
Fuqua's record early in the fourth quarter and might have
approached 300 yards if the game had been closer.

Parker wasn't drafted out of North Carolina in 2004 and
originally thought he'd be a special teams player with Pittsburgh.

"They've never had a speed back, they've always had power backs
so I thought I'd have to make a niche on special teams," Parker
said. "Then I said, 'Naw, I'm going to keep going at it, keep hard
at it and be a running back, just be that every down back.'"

The Steelers ran the ball so well, tackle Marvel Smith said, the
Browns' defensive players were yelling at each other in the huddle.

"There's no better feeling than that, when they know you're
going to run it and they still can't stop it," Smith said. "We
rammed it down their throats."

The Steelers (6-7) withstood temperatures in the teens, a wind
chill that was below zero in the second half and an occasional snow
flake to win their seventh in a row against their Rust Belt rival,
following up a 41-0 rout in Cleveland last December and a 24-20
comeback victory last month in Cleveland. Pittsburgh is one of the
NFL's best clubs when the weather gets bad and the games usually
are more important, going 21-6 past Dec. 1 since 2001.

For the Browns (4-9), this time of the year simply is a case of
going from bad to worse. Assured now of their fourth consecutive
losing season, they are 2-11 in December the last three seasons.

"It was cold, but both teams have to play in it -- and they
caught and ran the ball fine," Browns tight end Steve Heiden said.

Parker went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second season in a
row on Pittsburgh's opening drive and kept on going, following up
his 213-yard game against New Orleans on Nov. 12. He had been
limited to 129 yards in his last three games, but there was no
stopping him Thursday as he helped lead the Steelers' two longest
drives of the season.

Parker ran for 26 yards on five carries during a 97-yard drive
ended by Ben Roethlisberger's 49-yard TD pass to Nate Washington
that made it 7-0 during the first quarter. Washington started for
the injured Hines Ward, who sat out a second straight game
following knee surgery.

Later, Roethlisberger (11-of-21, 225 yards) finished off a
91-yard drive with a 2-yard bootleg TD run, crossing up a Browns
defense that was expecting Parker to get the ball.

Cleveland never did find a way to slow down a Steelers running
game that only two weeks ago was limited to 21 yards in a 27-0 loss
to Baltimore. Pittsburgh gained 304 yards on the ground, the Browns
just 18.

"You can't stop it and you can't move it, you get beat," coach
Romeo Crennel said. "They ran inside, ran outside, and we couldn't
tackle him."

Parker also had a 3-yard TD run on a 74-yard drive during the
third quarter as the Steelers, despite playing without four injured
starters, continued to wear down the Browns.

Cleveland appeared to be headed toward its second shutout loss
in three weeks until Derek Anderson, making his first NFL start for
the injured Charlie Frye, threw a 45-yard TD pass to Braylon
Edwards with 5:20 remaining. Anderson couldn't replicate his
dramatic debut Sunday when he threw two TD passes to lead a 31-28
overtime win over Kansas City.

Until then, the Steelers hadn't allowed a touchdown on defense
in nine quarters, or since the second quarter in Baltimore.
Pittsburgh beat Tampa Bay and its inexperienced quarterback, Bruce
Gradkowski, 20-3 on Sunday.

The only trouble with this latest Steelers late-season surge is
it apparently comes too late to save a season that was all but over
after the Super Bowl champions lost six of their first eight.

"We're going to win the next three, then see where 9-7 gets
us," linebacker Joey Porter said.

Game notes
The announced crowd of 55,246 was about 10,000 below Heinz
Field's capacity, and there weren't nearly that many fans around
even by the third quarter. ... Browns S Brian Russell sat out with
an elbow injury. He had a staph infection in the same elbow earlier
this season. ... The Steelers evened the series 55-55, counting
playoff games, for the first time since it began in 1950. ...
Pittsburgh has won four of five.