PITTSBURGH (Sept. 11, 2005) -- 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?
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.
"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 there."
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 for next week's game 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 us."
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.
The Steelers had lost 10 of 12 to Tennessee. Pittsburgh has won its past 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 regular-season games in a row. Reed has made 19 consecutive field goals; that ties Gary Anderson's 1994 team record. The 11 passes were Pittsburgh's fewest since throwing nine against Cincinnati in 1977.
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