The Steelers turned to Parker early; they turned to him when they trailed; and they turned to him to close out the game. Yet his best series may have come on a fruitless drive that ended in a fumble.
The Steelers trailed by 17-14 early in the fourth quarter when they put the offense on Parker's back. He carried seven times for 46 yards and led the Steelers all the way to the Miami 1. But Charlie Batch fumbled the center exchange and the Dolphins took over at their own five.
Parker took much of the load off Batch, who was starting in place of Ben Roethlisberger. The starting quarterback was out after undergoing an appendectomy four days earlier. But even with the Dolphins overplaying the run, Parker was able to post the seventh 100-yard game of his career.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt called Parker's number on the first two plays, and three of the first five plays. He struggled early and went into the second quarter with 15 yards on nine first-quarter carries. But his best run was a fourth-and-one counter flip that gained four yards. That's when Parker began to heat up.
In the second quarter, Parker's five-yard run preceded the 27-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington, and his 32-yard run around right end gave the Steelers a first down at the Miami 33 and set up Batch's seven-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward for a 14-7 lead.
Parker began running with a sense of urgency once the Steelers fell behind midway through the third quarter. His seven-carry series for 46 yards carried the Steelers into the fourth quarter and then to the Miami 1. Parker was pulled for Verron Haynes but Batch fumbled the snap.
The Steelers didn't get the ball again until 6:25 remained. Parker didn't carry on the one-play drive but drew the attention of the Miami safeties on a play-fake. The sucked-in Dolphins allowed tight end Heath Miller to catch a Batch pass and rumble 87 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It proved that even when Parker doesn't run he can create big plays.
The only question that remained about Parker was whether he could close out the game as effectively as Jerome Bettis had since 1996.
Cowher has amassed a gaudy record with late leads and Parker was thrust into the role last night. He answered the question, but only partially. The Steelers took possession with 5:51 remaining at the Miami 45 and Parker carried five times for 13 yards. His loss on a third-and-two pitch set up a missed 44-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, but the Steelers overcame the setback on Joey Porter's 42-yard interception return for a touchdown that clinched the win.
With Parker carrying inside as effectively as he did outside, the Steelers proved they could run the ball old-school style without Bettis. They also proved they could stop the run, another Cowher staple.
The Steelers held last year's No. 2 pick in the draft, Ronnie Brown, to 30 yards on 14 carries. They held the Dolphins to a total rushing output of 43 yards on 18 carries, 2.4 yards per carry.
Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith keyed the Steelers' run defense while Parker keyed the running game. His 115 rushing yards ranks fifth in his career, but it ranks first as the centerpiece of an offense led by a backup quarterback.