Tuesday, November 27, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Willie Parker runs late in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins last night. Parker went over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season with his 81-yard rushing performance. (vs. Dolphins 11/26/07)
It was not the kind of game Willie Parker would imagine he would take another step into Steelers lore.
And it was certainly not the kind of field on which he envisioned coming up with one of his best rushing performances of the season, even though his numbers could not match any of the six 100-yard games he already had compiled this season.
"It was tough, man," Parker said.
In a game in which he went over 1,000 yards rushing for the third consecutive season, Parker did not post the kind of gaudy numbers to which he has been accustomed. It was certainly not the type of statistical gem that will stand out among the series of performances associated with the National Football League's second-leading rusher.
But, when the slop finally settled and newly sodded turf stopped sliding, there was Parker carrying the look of another noted mudder, Jerome Bettis.
It certainly wasn't much, at least, statistically: 81 yards on 24 carries. But, to everyone in the Steelers locker room, it was pretty amazing, considering the circumstances and playing conditions.
"It was pretty unique playing on a field like that," center Sean Mahan said. "It was like playing on sand."
"I feel like I've been running on the beach for three hours," guard Kendall Simmons said. "It took everything we could just to stand up."
"I'm still spitting sand out," said tackle Max Starks, who didn't know he would start for injured left tackle Marvel Smith until he arrived at Heinz Field. "It reminded me of the swamps back in Florida."
In the end, after the Steelers managed to wring out a 3-0 victory against the Miami Dolphins with a 24-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with 17 seconds remaining, it seems improbable that one team would manage to procure any points.
And that Parker would come close to another 100-yard performance seems downright remarkable. He had 42 of his 81 yards in the first half, then squeezed out 39 more on 13 carries in the second half.
He would have come closer to his seventh 100-yard game of the season if a holding penalty against tight end Heath Miller didn't wipe out a 9-yard run to the Dolphins' 29 on the winning field-goal drive.
Nonetheless, his ability to gain any amount of yards in a game when the Dolphins managed just 49 yards rushing on 23 carries was testament to his performance.
"He had an exceptional game," Starks said. "He just said forget about it -- he saw the hole and he hit it. You weren't going to get any cutback runs on a field like that."
Indeed, Parker's longest run was 9 yards, not the type of monster runs that have been yielded by the Dolphins defense, which ranked last against the run in the NFL.
Still, when it was over, he had 1,006 yards on the season, only the second NFL back to reach 1,000 yards this season, behind Minnesota Vikings rookie Adrian Peterson. Only two other backs in Steelers history have rushed for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons -- Bettis and Franco Harris.
"It was terrible ... terrible," Simmons said, referring to the field conditions. "And the rain didn't help at all. It kept getting worse as the game went on."
"It was tough sledding out there," Mahan said. "There were not a lot of moves being made out there. You just hit it up field as fast as you can. There's not going to be a lot of spin moves out there."
Hines Ward, who had nine catches for 88 yards, compared Parker to another mudder, Bettis, who, at 255 pounds, had the weight to trample through sloppy field conditions. Parker, who weighs 209 pounds, is not that type of back, or so it would seem.
But, he managed to keep his feet well enough to plod into the Steelers record book.
"You can't look at the stats in conditions like that," Ward said. "He did a good job. He didn't turn the ball over. That's one of the things we kept stressing. The weather, the field, it's not going to be perfect."