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12-21-2007, 04:24 AM
Steelers lose Parker, beat Rams, 41-24
Friday, December 21, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers finally won a crucial game on the road, but their 41-24 victory over St. Louis last night also was a costly one.

Willie Parker left the game after his first carry with a broken right fibula, ending his season. He was the NFL's leading rusher entering the next-to-last game and was named Tuesday to his second Pro Bowl.

Najeh Davenport replaced Parker and had his best game in his two seasons with the Steelers. He ran for 123 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns, one running and one receiving.

Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, his other two going to Nate Washington. The Steelers' quarterback compiled the second perfect passer rating of this season at 158.3 and third of his career.

"I don't know what my numbers were, but it felt good," Roethlisberger said of playing indoors.

He completed 16 of 20 for 261 yards and threw no interceptions. He limped on a sprained ankle after the game, but it's not expected to keep him out of the next one Dec. 30 in Baltimore.

"It's a big win for us, one we needed," coach Mike Tomlin said.

The victory lifted the Steelers record to 10-5, but did not clinch a playoff berth. That would come if Tennessee loses Sunday to the New York Jets, or if Cleveland loses at Cincinnati. If the Browns lose, the Steelers also would clinch the AFC North Division championship.

As for the injury to Parker, Tomlin said, "On a personal note, my heart goes out to him." But, "as a football team, we're not going to throw a pity party. Nobody cares about our problems -- they're probably glad we have them."

"It hurts to have a guy like Willie Parker out," Washington said. "But we have to move on."

St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger tossed two 12-yard touchdown passes, one to Steven Jackson and one to Isaac Bruce. He followed with a third scoring toss, 23 yards to Drew Bennett in the third quarter. Jeff Wilkins kicked a 52-yard field goal for the Rams (3-12).

Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 21 and 29 yards for the Steelers.

Bulger completed 18 of 35 passes for 208 yards and two interceptions.

Nearly half of the 65,705 fans in the Edward Jones Dome were towel-twirling Steelers fans, who erupted when Ike Taylor put the game away with 3:41 left. Down by 10, the Rams went for it on fourth down at their 34. Bulger threw to his right. Taylor intercepted the ball and ran it back 51 yards for the game's final touchdown.

The Steelers jumped on top quickly, fell behind, 14-10, then reclaimed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed again.

It was the most points they have scored this season.

"We needed this win really bad," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To start off 9-3 and lose the last two ... it makes a big difference when you win."

The Steelers struck early when, on their first play from scrimmage at their 4, Roethlisberger avoided a rush in the end zone, stepped up and threw the ball more than 50 yards in the air. Santonio Holmes caught it at the 48 over cornerback Ron Bartell and outran Bartell to the 13, where he was tackled. It was the first of four catches for Holmes, who finished with 133 yards.

After two running plays lost 4 yards, Roethlisberger rifled a pass in the right corner of the end zone to Washington for a 13-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Rams tied it on their next series when Jackson took a screen pass from Bulger, stiff-armed linebacker LaMarr Woodley near the line of scrimmage and eluded a diving Deshea Townsend to score from 12 yards.

St. Louis got a jump-start on that series from its 41 after yet another poor coverage by the Steelers' kickoff team.

But the special teams -- in the form of the punt unit -- made amends soon thereafter. On fourth-and-7 at the 46, the Steelers dropped into punt formation. Punter Daniel Sepulveda took the snap and threw a pass over the middle to Davenport, who was wide open and ran to complete a 32-yard play to the St. Louis 32.

That led to a 21-yard Reed field goal and a 10-7 Steelers lead.

Again, the Rams came roaring back, and again poor kickoff coverage helped them start off on the right foot. Derek Stanley returned it 49 yards to the 50. On the next play, Jackson skipped off right tackle and through the arms of Troy Polamalu all the way to the 14 for a 36-yard run.

Three plays later, on third down, Bulger hit Bruce perfectly along the right sideline over Taylor for a 12-yard touchdown and a 14-10 St. Louis lead.

The Steelers responded in kind on their next series. Davenport ran three consecutive times for 25 yards. Then Roethlisberger threw his second touchdown pass to Washington, who beat cornerback Jonathan Wade to catch the ball at the 2 and run into the end zone.

The Steelers were back on top, 17-14.

"The opportunities have been there," Washington explained his burst of three touchdown catches in the past two games. He said teams have concentrated on [Hines] Ward and Holmes and "a lot of teams have slacked off me and Ced [Wilson]."

Davenport continued to plow through the Rams like a new Bus. On the next series, he ran five times for 36 yards, then caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to put the Steelers ahead, 24-14, with 1:57 left in the half.

St. Louis came back to score on Wilkins' 52-yard field goal with 1:01 left after Taylor was penalized 31 yards for pass interference against Bruce.

The Steelers' offense kept it up to open the second half, scoring on a 69-yard drive when Davenport dived in for a 1-yard touchdown and a 31-17 lead.

It was the sixth time in seven plays Davenport had carried on that series, good for 34 yards. Holmes also caught a 17-yard pass.

The Rams were not done, either. Bulger threw his third touchdown pass of the game on his next series. Bennett broke over the middle with cornerback Townsend right with him. Townsend had good position, but somehow missed the ball. Bennett caught it at the goal line for a touchdown to pull the Rams within 31-24 with 6:22 to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers boosted their lead to 10 points when Reed kicked his second field goal, from 29 yards, with 4:39 left.

Willie Parker, the NFL's leading rusher, has a fractured right fibula and is done for the season. Parker's injury occurred on his first carry of the game, and there were unconfirmed reports that his foot got caught in the artificial turf at the Edward Jones Dome.