PITTSBURGH (AP) – Thanks to Willie Parker and Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers proved they can win with flash and dash, not just with big backs and big hits.

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 Roethlisberger threw for two scores in a 34-7 rout of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Pittsburgh’s starting offense didn’t score a touchdown during a dreadful preseason that admittedly concerned coach Bill 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 with a much different look offensively from last year’s franchise-best 15-1 team.

The Steelers won their 15th in a row during the regular season, four short of the Patriots’ NFL record they stopped last season. Roethlisberger improved to 14-0 as an NFL starter during the season, and his play was as perfect as his record. So was his perfect 158.3 passer rating; he is the first NFL quarterback since Kansas City’s Trent Green in 2003 to have a perfect rating.

So much for the preseason. After Tennessee scored on its opening drive, Roethlisberger went 5-for-5 for 88 yards on the Steelers’ opening drive, and his 48-yard swing pass to Parker set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to first-round draft pick Heath Miller.

After Steve McNair deftly drove the Titans 61 yards, the Titans lost a fumble by new running back Travis Henry; missed a field goal and were intercepted on their next three possessions. The Steelers scored after all three, on Roethlisberger’s 63-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El, Jeff Reed’s 27-yard field goal and Parker’s 11-yard run.

Reed went 2-of-2 and has made 19 in a row, tying Gary Anderson’s 1994 team record.

For 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 gives them a speed element they’ve never had, and he had an opener like no other Steelers running back with a combined 209 yards.

Parker, playing because of injuries to Bettis and Staley, nearly equaled the 181 yards he had as a non-starting senior at North Carolina. He has rushed for 263 yards in the only two NFL games he saw substantial playing time. He ran for 102 yards against Buffalo in what to the Steelers was a meaningless season-ending game in January.

Staley and Bettis likely will be ready next Sunday in Houston, so does Cowher keep playing Parker or go back to the two big backs who ran for more than 1,700 yards last season?

The Titans shed many of their former stars for salary cap reasons after a 5-11 season and looked it, especially on a defense that had four new starters. McNair looked fine 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.

AP-ES-09-11-05 1608EDT


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