Mewelde Moore did a perfect imitation of Willie Parker
On the left: Mewelde Moore -- Signed with the Steelers in the offseason as a free agent for backup running back position. On the right: Willie Parker -- Starting running back ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns before injuring his knee in Week 3 against Philadelphia.
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Willie Parker loved the comparison.
"Mewelde Moore," someone said to Parker in the happy Steelers' locker room as Sunday night turned into Monday morning, "looked just like you out there."
"Now that's high praise," Parker said, grinning.
Deserved praise, too.
There are a lot of reasons the Steelers are 4-1 and boss of the AFC North Division despite a frightful string of injuries that easily could have sabotaged their season. Moore is high on the list. He didn't beat the Jacksonville Jaguars by himself Sunday night or the Baltimore Ravens the weekend before. But the Steelers wouldn't have won either game without him.
"He probably endeared himself to some guys in there," coach Mike Tomlin said after Moore played a huge part in the 26-21 victory against the Jaguars. "You know how it is for a new guy. He's got to earn his stripes with his teammates. I'm sure he's got some new friends in there."
Would you believe 52 new pals?
"I'm not surprised by what he did," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I knew, he knew, we all knew he could do it. Everyone worried about a drop-off with our running backs by committee, but we all knew he'd be just fine."
Tomlin always preaches about "team football."
"The level of expectations won't change," he said after injuries to running backs Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Carey Davis, leaving Moore as The Man in overtime against the Ravens and the unlikely starter against the Jaguars. But not even Tomlin could have imagined that Moore -- a player he pursued and signed as a free agent in the offseason -- would do such a fine Fast Willie imitation. If he had, Moore would have had more than just one touch -- a carry for 6 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles Sept. 21 -- in the first three games.
Where has this guy been?
"He definitely stepped up," Parker said. "He brings it in practice so we know what he can do. But you're still kind of a little shocked after a game like this because we only saw it from him on third down."
Moore ran for 19 yards on the first play against the Jaguars. He had a run of 8 yards and a catch for 13 on a first-quarter touchdown drive. He had three carries for 18 yards on a second-quarter field-goal drive. And, on the winning touchdown drive late in the game, he had a 27-yard run that gave Roethlisberger a chance to pull out the improbable victory with two of the prettiest passes you'll ever see to wide receiver Hines Ward.
"That long run was sweet," Parker said.
Fast Willie-like, indeed.
"I believe in myself," Moore said. "It all starts from there."
"A talented guy," Tomlin called him. "He can do a lot of things well. He can run it and he can catch it."
Moore caught it in overtime against the Ravens, converting a third-and-8 with a 24-yard grab-and-go before getting kicker Jeff Reed just close enough for the deciding 46-yard field goal with another 7-yard reception. He mostly toted it against the Jaguars, rushing 17 times for ...
"Yeah, I know, 99 yards," Moore said, sighing. "I need to find 1 more yard somewhere."
You have to think Moore would have gotten an 18th carry and that precious extra yard if his helmet strap hadn't broken on the winning drive. Backup Gary Russell -- on the team only because of the injuries -- had a carry right before Roethlisberger broke a lot of hearts at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium by throwing a perfect 8-yard touchdown fade pass to Ward.
Not that Moore was complaining about being stuck on 99.
"We got the win. I'll take that any day."
It was a win that sent the Steelers into their desperately needed off week in the highest of spirits. They would have signed in blood to be 4-1 if you had told them they would lose all of those running backs plus nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel, cornerback Deshea Townsend and guard Kendall Simmons. Now, they get the better part of two weeks to heal before they play the 0-5 Cincinnati Bengals Oct. 19.
Parker, who injured his knee against the Eagles, should be ready for the Cincinnati game. Although he has tortured a lot of teams, he has been especially effective against the Bengals. In his past four games against them, he rushed for 87, 126, 134 and 133 yards and a total of five touchdowns.
Moore willingly will check his ego at the locker-room door and step aside for Parker.
Of course, he'll also be ready to go, if needed.
"Team football," Tomlin said again.
You think of one, you can't help but think of the other.
First Published October 7, 2008 12:00 am