Parker-Roethlisberger combo overwhelms Titans

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans needed a scouting report

on Steelers running back Willie Parker, so cornerback Michael

Waddell issued this warning: Don't pay attention to his college

career, this guy can run.

Who knew he could run like this?

It was over when ...

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense found its groove in the second quarter. The Steelers took the lead with 13 points in the quarter, and put the game away with 14 more in the fourth.

Game ball goes to ...

Willie Parker. The second-year running back answered the call, stepping in for Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley. The former college backup rushed for 161 yards and one touchdown.

ESPN's take ...

Eric Allen

Early last season the Steelers used Duce Staley as their primary back, but his injury has paved the way for Parker to step up -- and boy, did he ever. He had a fantastic game against the Titans, but I still expect the Steelers to start getting Jerome Bettis the ball later in the season when opposing defenses are tired and banged up and don't want to get hit by The Bus. It's a simple blueprint that enables the Steelers to chew up plenty of clock and keep pressure off their young quarterback. -- Eric Allen

Parker, a college backup who adds speed to the NFL's most

run-heavy offense, had a dazzling first career start with 161 yards

rushing and a long reception, and a mistake-free Ben Roethlisberger

threw for two scores in Pittsburgh's 34-7 rout of Tennessee on


"He's got the kind of speed you can't coach," tackle Marvel

Smith said. "He's a raw talent, basically, but he's so fast and

he's just all over the place. He broke a lot of tackles out


For more than 40 years, the Steelers have been all about big,

physical backs who run over or elude tacklers: Hall of Famer John

Henry Johnson, Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis and, last year, Duce

Staley. Parker provides a speed element they've never had, and his

yardage was the most for a Steelers back on opening day.

"I really didn't take any hits in college, so my career's

really just beginning," Parker said. "I had to make a name for

myself, open up some eyes that I can play."

Parker, playing because of injuries to Bettis and Staley, nearly

equaled the 181 yards he had as a non-starting senior at North

Carolina, where Waddell was his roommate. He followed up a 102-yard

game against Buffalo to end last season.

"The game plan is different with him, to take advantage of his

speed," center Jeff Hartings said. "I don't know if there's

another running back in the league who can get down the sideline as

fast as he does."

Staley and Bettis likely will be ready next Sunday in Houston,

but Cowher -- for now -- isn't going back to the two big backs who

ran for more than 1,700 yards last season.

"He ran very well, and I see no reason to make a change right

now," Cowher said.

Pittsburgh's starting offense didn't score a touchdown during a

dreadful preseason that admittedly concerned Cowher, but

Roethlisberger said he wasn't worried. And for good reason -- the

Steelers scored on their first six possessions, four touchdowns and

two field goals, with most of the same starters but a different

look offensively from last year's franchise-best 15-1 team.

The Steelers won their 15th in a row, four short of breaking the

Patriots' NFL regular-season record they stopped last season.

Roethlisberger, mixing in more deep balls than he threw as a

rookie, improved to 14-0 as an NFL starter, not counting the

playoffs. His passer rating was a perfect 158.3; he is the first

since Kansas City's Trent Green in 2003 to have a perfect rating.

After Tennessee drove 61 yards to score on its opening drive,

Roethlisberger went 5-for-5 for 88 yards, and his 48-yard swing

pass to Parker set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to first-round draft

pick Heath Miller.

"I don't think Ben was bothered by all the things that were

said and the concerns a lot of people had, myself included,"

Cowher said. "He'd just say, 'Relax, coach, we'll be OK.' "

The Titans weren't. On their next three possessions, they lost a

fumble by new running back Travis Henry, missed a field goal and

were intercepted -- probably making new offensive coordinator Norm

Chow wish he was back at national champion Southern Cal.

The Steelers scored after all three, on Roethlisberger's 63-yard

pass to Antwaan Randle El, Jeff Reed's 27-yard field goal and an

11-yard Parker run on which he bounced off two defenders.

"We didn't tackle him," linebacker Peter Sirmon said. "Let's

not try to make this look like we overlooked the guy and he shocked


The Titans shed many of their former stars for salary cap

reasons after a 5-11 season and looked it, especially on a defense

with four new starters. Steve McNair returned after missing half

the 2004 season with a sternum injury, going 18-of-26 for 219 yards

and a touchdown, and Chris Brown averaged 5.7 yards on his 11

carries. But there wasn't much to go with that.

"I think we had a number of younger players welcomed to the NFL

today," coach Jeff Fisher said.

Game notes
The Steelers had lost 10 of 12 to Tennessee. ... Pittsburgh

has won its last three openers under Cowher after winning only four

of its first 11. ... The Steelers must win at Houston to match the

Patriots (2003-04), the Bears (1933-34 and 1941-42) and Dolphins

(1971-73 and 1983-84) as the only NFL teams to win 16 in a row. ...

Reed has made 19 straight field goals, tying Gary Anderson's 1994

team record. ... The 11 passes were Pittsburgh's fewest since

throwing nine against Cincinnati in 1977.