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Old 11-13-2006, 01:22 AM   #1
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Default Steelers: Parker provides instant offense in 38-31 victory

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Heinz Field turned into one big lost and found department yesterday for the Steelers.

For a change, the Steelers lost nothing: No turnovers and not even a game. And they found the football on three occasions when the Saints fumbled it, along with the kind of feeling that was lost a long time ago, the one that comes after a victory. Oh, and their running game returned as well.
The Steelers held a morning Kumbaya-like meeting at their hotel in which tears flowed, and then went out and converted them into points.

Willie Parker rushed for 213 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger threw for three scores and the Steelers came back from two blown leads to topple the surprising New Orleans Saints, 38-31, and celebrate their first victory in a month.

"It's been a long time, but we still know how to do it," linebacker James Farrior said as the Steelers ended a three-game losing streak to climb to 3-6. "We had to knock the dust off, but we got a win today."

The victory wasn't secured until Saints receiver Terrance Copper fumbled at the Steelers' 25 with 39 seconds left. Copper caught a 30-yard pass but gave up the ball when safety Tyrone Carter slammed into him so hard that Carter stayed on the ground for a minute. Safety Ryan Clark recovered the ball.

It was the third lost fumble of the day for the Saints, and the kind of play the Steelers' defense had become accustomed to making the past two years. They entered the game with just one fumble recovery in the first half of the season.

"It's about guys making plays," Clark said. "Guys like Tyrone Carter making hits, James Farrior, Larry Foote. I think it was a blessing and our offense did not turn it over."

The Steelers had no turnovers in a game for the first time this season after committing an ungodly 24 in the first half of the season. The Saints outgained them, 517-467, a sweet turn of events as far as coach Bill Cowher was concerned. His team had outgained opponents four times in four losses this season.

"I'd rather give up 500 yards of offense and win than give up 98 yards and lose," he said.

Drew Brees completed 31 of 47 passes for 398 yards for New Orleans as rookie Marques Colston burned the depleted Steelers secondary for 169 yards on 10 catches. Ben Roethlisberger threw fewer passes, completing 17 of 28 for 264 yards, but threw three for strikes in the end zone: 37 yards to Hines Ward, 2 yards to Heath Miller and one of 38 yards to Cedrick Wilson.

Part of the problem for the Steelers' defense may have been the loss of strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Deshea Townsend to concussions.

Twice the Steelers built 14-point leads, once in the first quarter and once in the fourth. They blew the first and fell behind, 24-17, entering the third quarter, and after going back up by 14, they found a way to stave off the Saints on Carter's hit at the end.

"We had no turnovers, we got three turnovers," guard Alan Faneca said. "That's big. That's a big turnaround from the way we've been playing lately."
No one had a bigger turnaround than Parker. Only one Steelers running back ever had a bigger game -- Frenchy Fuqua, who ran for 218 yards in 1970 against the Eagles. Parker topped 100 yards three times this season but none in the previous three games. Last Sunday, he started the ball rolling by proclaiming his team did not have the hunger this season that it had on its way to a Super Bowl victory. He also said there was not as much trust in teammates.

Parker said players came up to him last week and told him, "Willie, you were kind of right."

Those words and the Steelers' horrendous record may have prompted a meeting yesterday that normally coaches conduct. Cowher turned it over to the players, and at least seven stood up and talked. One, Aaron Smith, had tears in his eyes as he spoke and Tyrone Carter admitted it brought tears to his eyes as well.

"I love this team," Smith said. "If I can do something to help us win, share my mind and how I feel about the guys in this locker room, that's what I'm going to do. I just wanted to tell everybody to come together and believe in each other, never quit, believe you're going to win this game no matter what, fight for each other."

The game was atypical in many ways of the Steelers this season, but typical in others -- it was close to the end, and they could not hold a lead.

Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes on his first two series, one to Ward for 37 yards, and the other a 2-yard pitch to Miller after Farrior forced tight end Billy Miller to fumble and defensive end Brett Keisel recovered at the Saints' 32.

The Saints scored to make the score 14-7 when Brees completed a third-down, 3-yard pass to Cooper over a familiar victim, cornerback Ike Taylor.

John Carney kicked a 20-yard field goal for the Saints, who then took their first lead when Reggie Bush scored his first NFL touchdown on offense, a double-reverse in which he dived over Clark into the end zone to complete a 15-yard run and put New Orleans in front, 17-14.

Jeff Reed tied the score with a 32-yard field goal with 1:20 left, but the Saints zipped 72 yards in one minute to go back on top, 24-17, on Deuce McAllister's 4-yard touchdown run.

The Saints discovered how the Steelers have lived much of this season when linebacker Larry Foote stripped Bush of the ball in the third quarter and Clark recovered at the 38. On the next play, Roethlisberger pumped once as Wilson blew past cornerback Jason Craft and was wide open in the end zone to catch the 38-yard touchdown pass to give the Steelers' a 24-24 tie.

Then it was Fast Willie Time. Parker ran 72 yards to the Saints' 14, and scored from the 3 to give the Steelers a 31-24 lead. He did it again on the next series when he bounced an inside call around right end and took it 76 yards to the 4, where he was caught from behind by Craft.

After a timeout, Parker scooted around left end for a 4-yard touchdown that put the Steelers' ahead by two touchdowns.

It was a big day for Parker, and his teammates would not let him forget it.

"You can't call him Fast Willie if he keeps getting caught from behind," Farrior said.

"Fast Willie's fast, he just gets slow inside the 5," Faneca said.

The Saints, though, weren't through. They moved 64 yards on four plays and scored on a trick -- or broken -- play. Center Jeff Faine snapped the ball past Brees -- on a bounce -- to halfback Deuce McAllister, who ran 4 yards for a touchdown that made the score, 38-31, Steelers.

"I lost the ball," Cowher said. "I thought it was a fumble-rooskie."

Next came the fumble losekie, at least for the Saints, when Carter separated the ball from Copper. It sent the Saints to 6-3 and the Steelers to Cleveland next Sunday with a chance to win two in a row.

"Until someone says we're eliminated," Cowher said, "we're going to keep playing."


(Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com. )

?Jarrad Page, we?re not at UCLA anymore. You need to wrap.? ?an ESPN commentator, on the Chiefs rookie?s weak attempt at tackling the Steelers? Nate Washington in a 45-7 loss.
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