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Old 01-12-2009, 11:15 AM   #1
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Default Yep, running game wins championships

Perrotto: Yep, running game wins championships
By John Perrotto
Times Sports Staff
Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 12:04 AM EST

PITTSBURGH — Willie Parker did not have to speak to Jerome Bettis in the moments leading up to Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game to convey the idea he was ready to have a big game.

Bettis, the future Hall of Famer, took part in the coin toss with his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammates prior to their 35-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field that advanced the franchise to its third AFC championship game in five years.

Bettis stopped for a moment before leaving the field and told Parker, his replacement as the Steelers’ feature back in 2005, to play with confidence. Parker responded by putting his hand over his heart.

“I didn’t have to say a word,” Parker said. “He knew what I meant. He knew I was ready to play.”

Parker then had his best game of the season in helping sending the Steelers to a matchup with AFC North rival Baltimore Sunday at Heinz Field.

Parker finished with season-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts. His best effort in the regular season was 138 yards against Houston in the Sept. 7 opener.

“It feels good to run with confidence again,” Parker said with a big grin in his post-game press conference. “I didn’t always have confidence in the regular season. I wasn’t always sure of myself. Today, I knew it was going to be a big day. I could feel it.”

Parker rushed for just 791 yards in the regular season, ending a string of three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He was bothered by knee and shoulder injuries that robbed him of the ability to cut or bull his way through defenders.

“The big difference now is you’re looking at a running back who is 100-percent healthy,” Parker said. “I’m 100 percent, there’s no question.”

The Steelers certainly aren’t questioning Parker’s health, not after he finished the regular season with a 116-yard effort in a 31-0 rout of the Cleveland Browns. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, criticized for abandoning the running game at times this season, scripted the game plan so Parker would run up the middle on the first three plays.

Parker responded with runs of 12, 2 and 8 yards. That set the tone for Steelers to grind out a win over the big-play Chargers, who came into the game riding a five-game winning streak that propelled them from 4-8 to the second round of the playoffs.

The Steelers had 165 yards rushing, 12 first downs on the ground and held a 36:30 to 23:30 advantage in time of possession.

“I told Bruce that we should just run the ball between the tackles and try to wear their defense down,” Parker said. “It really worked. It helped the rest of the offense and it kept our defense fresh. It won the game for us.”

The old cliché goes that you have to be able to run to win a championship in football. The reason it is a cliché, though, is because it is true.

“When you run the ball like we did, it really calms everything down,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “It gives you a comfortable feeling.”

It also gives the Steelers a winning feeling.

Couple the way Parker ran Sunday with the lower-seeded teams pulling upsets in the other three divisional playoff games and the Steelers are now the clear favorites to win their second Super Bowl in four years and sixth in franchise history.

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