Steelers rip Titans, 34-7, with the run
Willie Parker rushed for 161 yards on 22 carries as the Steelers were virtually unstoppable.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- All the worries generated by the Steelers' offensive struggles in the preseason evaporated quickly in Sunday's bright sunshine at Heinz Field.
Powered by tailback Willie Parker's speedy legs and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's accuracy, the Steelers scored on their first six possessions to cruise to a 34-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the NFL opener.
"Ben made good decisions," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who downplayed his team's performance. "For the most part, it was a solid effort, but we still have a long way to go. I don't think the score was any indication of this game."
Titans coach Jeff Fisher disagreed.
"When you go toe-to-toe with these guys, you better be able to stop the run," Fisher said. "We were not."
How well was the Steelers' offense playing?
The Titans defense failed to stop the Steelers once in the first three quarters.
Roethlisberger's string at 14
Roethlisberger threw just 11 passes, only two in the second half, as he improved his regular season starting record to 14-0. Last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year completed nine for 218 yards and two touchdowns for the first perfect passer rating of his career (158.3).
But it was Parker, the non-drafted running back from the University of North Carolina, who stole the spotlight.
The 25-year-old back from Clinton, N.C., was spectacular in replacing injured backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis as he rushed for 161 yards on 22 carries.
"We have a good offensive line and I don't want to take anything away from that," Cowher said. "Willie made some good runs, but I thought we blocked pretty well."
Parker also caught a screen pass from Roethlisberger for a 48-yard gain to the Titans 4 on the Steelers' first possession.
"They overplayed a lot of plays," Parker said of the Titans.
Wide receiver Hines Ward said he's "ecstatic for Willie because he's put in a lot of hard work to get where he's at. All he's asked for is an opportunity and he made the most of it."
Steelers' defense regroups
After a shaky start, the Steelers defense settled in for a satisfactory performance, allowing 303 yards but only one score.
Tennessee's offensive miseries were compounded in the second quarter by a fumble forced by linebacker James Farrior, a missed 47-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas and safety Troy Polamalu's interception off a deflected pass.
The Steelers converted those reversals into 13 points (two Jeff Reed field goals plus Roethlisberger's 63-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El).
Early on, a rout seemed unlikely as Titans quarterback Steve McNair marched his team 61 yards for an opening possession touchdown. McNair completed four passes on the 11-play drive, capping it with a 1-yard touchdown toss to tight end Ben Troupe.
The Steelers responded with a 77-yard, nine-play march that ended when Roethlisberger hit rookie tight end Heath Miller with a 3-yard touchdown pass.
"The first thing I did was look at [tight end Jerame] Tuman, who I was going to throw to," Roethlisberger said. "Then I saw Heath coming open in the back of the end zone. He was wide open."
Six offensive plays later, Farrior popped Titans running back Travis Henry, forcing a fumble recovered by cornerback Ike Taylor at midfield.
Steelers go ahead for good
Reed's 44-yard field goal seven plays later put the Steelers ahead for good.
Following Bironas' miss from the Pittsburgh 29, Roethlisberger hit Randle El at the Tennessee 22 on the next play and the wide receiver scored for a 17-7 lead.
"Ben gave me a shot by putting the ball up there," Randle El said. "The safety couldn't find it, so put my foot on the ground and cut back. Then I avoided the collision to get in."
McNair's struggles continued when free safety Chris Hope deflected a pass that Polamalu caught at the Pittsburgh 5. Late in the first half, Reed kicked a 27-yard field goal to extend the Steelers' lead to 13.
On the sixth offensive play of the second half, Parker scored an 11-yard touchdown.
Backup running back Verron Haynes also scored on a 5-yard run in the third quarter.