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.
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.