ST. LOUIS (AP) – Najeh Davenport is a career backup running back with typical non-descript statistics. Except when he’s playing the St. Louis Rams.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ top-rated defense was porous again in a 41-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.

But Davenport’s two touchdowns and 123 yards rushing on 24 carries in relief of injured Willie Parker allowed them to break out of a late-season swoon and move one step closer to a playoff berth.

Isaac Bruce caught a 12-yard touchdown pass and moved into third place on the career yards receiving list, moving ahead of James Lofton, for the Rams. Marc Bulger threw three touchdown passes but was intercepted twice, and Ike Taylor’s 51-yard return on an overthrown ball on fourth-and-10 with 3:46 to go put the game out of reach.

Pittsburgh had taken a 10-point lead on a 29-yard field goal by Jeff Reed only seven plays earlier.

Besides the Bruce milestone, the only other highlight for the Rams (3-12) was retiring Marshall Faulk’s No. 28 jersey at halftime of the Rams home finale.

St. Louis finished 1-7 at home and had three games blacked out because it didn’t sell out, and in each of the last two weeks there have been nearly as many visitors as home fans in the Edward Jones Dome.

Parker, who leads the NFL with 1,316 yards rushing, limped off the field with a broken bone in his lower right leg in the first quarter after only one carry for minus-1 yard. Davenport eased any worries with a game that rivaled his 178-yard effort for the Green Bay Packers against the Rams, in a 45-17 Monday Night victory in 2004. He was filling in for Ahman Green at the time.

Ben Roethlisberger was 16-for-20 for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for the Steelers (10-5), who had lost three of five to fall into a tie with the Browns for the AFC North lead. Roethlisberger had his first 200-yard passing effort in five games by halftime, helping to revive a struggling offense.

The Steelers, 8-8 last season, can clinch the division with a Cleveland loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. They also can clinch a playoff berth if the Titans lose to the Jets.

Davenport entered the game with 349 yards, a 4.9-yard average and three touchdowns as Parker’s backup.

His best game before Thursday came against the Seahawks when he had 58 yards rushing on seven carries and two touchdowns.

Bulger was 18-for-35 for 208 yards and Steven Jackson had 85 yards on 12 carries for the Rams, who had 316 yards total offense.

AP-ES-12-20-07 2343EST

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