Parker gets 223 as Steelers beat Browns
PITTSBURGH - The weather was nasty, windy, miserable. For Willie Parker, it was a record cold night. Parker broke the Steelers' single-game rushing record with 223 yards — a game better than either Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis enjoyed — and Pittsburgh excelled as usual in inferior 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.
Parker broke Fuqua's record early in the fourth quarter and might have approached 300 yards if the game had been closer. Because it was a Browns-Steelers game in December it wasn't — no surprise there.
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.
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, a non-drafted free agent three years ago, 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.
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 for the night — the Browns just 18.
Parker also had a 3-yard TD run on a 74-yard drive during the third quarter as the Steelers 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.
Fittingly enough given Parker's big night, it was this week a year ago that Bettis, in one of the most memorable runs of his long career, ran through Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a 5-yard TD run on a snow-covered field. That score keyed a 21-9 Steelers victory that began their drive to the Super Bowl.
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.