Steelers Notebook: Parker's road woes reversed

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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 19 of 28 passes for 280 yards with a touchdown and an interception yesterday against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

CINCINNATI -- The road that caused him and the Steelers so many problems this season, ended in a big way for Willie Parker yesterday on the final day of 2006.

He scored twice to break the Steelers' touchdown record, setting the standard at 16, one more than Louis Lipps scored in 1985. And his 134 yards rushing on a career-high 37 carries lifted him to 1,494 yards. That's third most in Steelers history, although he would have liked 6 more yards for 1,500.

"I'm motivated for next year," said Parker, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in February.

The Steelers, who have had little success running the ball away from Heinz Field this season, pounded the Bengals for 207 yards on 45 carries.

"We just kept going at them," Parker said. "Their defense let us do what we wanted to do."

Only the 1,690 yards by Barry Foster in 1992 and the 1,665 yards by Jerome Bettis in '97 are more than Parker had this season.

Ward's rushing mark

Hines Ward became the team's all-time rushing leader for a wide receiver when he took a handoff from Parker and ran 9 yards on the final play of the first quarter.

It was his first carry this season. Later, he carried again and gained 21 yards on a play in which he was supposed to pass to tight end Heath Miller. The safety had Miller covered so Ward ran.

His two carries for 30 yards left him with 415 yards, surpassing Lipps, who had 388.

Lineup changes

Ike Taylor made his first start at cornerback for the Steelers since he was benched Nov. 26 in Baltimore. He replaced Deshea Townsend at his old spot on the left side.

James Harrison replaced injured Clark Haggans as the starting left outside linebacker.

The Steelers also made some drastic changes on their kickoff receiving team. Cedrick Wilson and Santonio Holmes were the two deep men on a team that, for the first time, included Ward and Parker.

The opening kickoff came to Wilson, who then joined a huddle of teammates as the Bengals crashed down on them. Holmes came out with the ball but was quickly tackled at the 9. They started on the 24 because the Bengals were flagged for unnecessary roughness.

"That's our end of the game return," coach Bill Cowher said. "We've been practicing it and I wanted to use it all year. I said 'But what if we never get to the end of the game?' So we called it the start of the game return.

"It looked better in practice."

Decent finish

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished a difficult season on a promising note.

He did throw his 23rd interception -- the most since Terry Bradshaw chucked 25 in 1979 and the fourth most in Steelers history (Jim Finks threw 26 in 1955 and Bradshaw also had 24 as a rookie in 1970).

Roethlisbeger also was sacked once, the 46th time this season. That's the most since Cliff Stoudt went down 51 times in 1983.

But Roethlisberger completed 19 of 28 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown that ended the game. His passer rating of 97.3 for the game left him with a 75.4 passer rating this season.

Disappointing Bengals

You think the Steelers are unhappy about finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs? They've got nothing in terms of disappointment on the Bengals, who started the season 3-0 and finished with the same 8-8 record, losing their final three games.

"I never in a million years thought that we'd be sitting at home during the playoffs with the talent that we have," running back Rudi Johnson said. "But this is the NFL. If you don't come with your best game every week, you'll be in trouble. It doesn't matter how much talent you have. The teams that play as a team always win."

"Selfishness" was a term heard throughout the Bengals' locker room. Coach Marvin Lewis used it to describe his team last week. The players picked up on it yesterday.

"We all know it's selfishness," veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "We as a team will never get over the hump with the selfishness."

That's only part of the problem, quarterback Carson Palmer said.

"There are a number of reasons. It's everybody, coaches to players. There are a number of things that need to change around here.

"Marvin has his hands full this offseason. He has a long offseason ahead of him because we weren't a very good football team. We're a team that should be better than 8-8."

Kick in the teeth

For the second consecutive game, a mistake in the kicking game doomed the Bengals. They lost in Denver, 24-23, last week when long snapper Brad St. Louis' extra-point snap sailed wide late in the game. They lost yesterday when kicker Shayne Graham pushed a 39-yard field-goal try wide right at the end of regulation.

"The only person I can point the finger at is myself," Graham said. "The field was fine. The snap and hold were perfect. I even felt I hit the ball well. I just have to execute. There's no excuse for not doing that today."

Added Palmer: "That's what average teams do. You get a chance to win it and you lose it in the end. You don't win games like you should."

Century mark

Jeff Reed's six points left him with 101, the fourth consecutive year he has been in triple figures. He also finished 10 for 10 in field-goal tries on the road this season. He was 20 of 27 overall.

Even steven

The Steelers beat the Bengals for the sixth consecutive time in Cincinnati, all in Paul Brown Stadium, to even their record at 8-8, one week after they were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

"To me, 7-9 or 8-8, who cares?" guard Alan Faneca said. "It looks better on paper down the road in a couple years when you look back at it. But I think it was just about beating the Bengals, not letting them sweep us, especially when we kind of gift-wrapped the first one."

The Steelers lost to Cincinnati, 28-20, Sept. 24 in Heinz Field, a game in which they outgained the Bengals, 365-246, but lost because they had five turnovers to three for Cincinnati.

Yesterday, the Steelers outgained the Bengals, 482-295, and again lost more turnovers -- 2-0.

Inactives

Steelers: QB Brian St. Pierre, S Ryan Clark, S Andre Lott, LB Clark Haggans, C Marvin Philip, G Chris Kemoeatu, OT Max Starks, WR Lee Mays.

Bengals: QB Doug Johnson, WR Skyler Green, RB Quincy Wilson, S John Busing, LB A.J. Nicholson, LB Andre Frazier, C Ben Wilkerson, DT Shaun Smith.


The Steelers' Anthony Smith, front, and Ike Taylor break up a pass intended for the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Ron Cook contributed to this report. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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