Run game returns

Found in southern Massachusetts: the Pittsburgh Steelers' running game, missing since September and thought to be lost for the rest of 2008.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers ran for 161 yards in a 33-10 victory in New England, coach Mike Tomlin remarked snidely that, "You know, we still can't run it. We're working. That's what you guys will write, anyway."

But Pittsburgh did rank 24th in the NFL rushing entering the game behind a cobbled-together offensive line and without first-round draft choice Rashard Mendenhall and, for nearly half the season to this point, Willie Parker.

But Parker returned, again, after an injury and teamed with Mewelde Moore to give Pittsburgh a potent one-two punch against the Patriots, and it's something the Steelers are likely to feature the rest of the way.

Two heads certainly were better than one Sunday, as Tomlin subbed freely at the halfback spot. Even Gary Russell got into it with a 1-yard touchdown run.

"We were given the opportunity to do what we needed to do," Moore said. "We understand what our jobs are, what our roles are and doing the things we need to do.

"We were just making the proper adjustments so that we could get the ball moving. When we finally got some creases and some seams, we just pounded the ball and were making guys miss. That was what really helped us gain momentum. The offensive line did a heck of a job."

The question now becomes: Can they keep this up? They had their most productive running game as a team since the season opener, when they rushed for 183 yards against Houston.

"We still have more offense," Parker promised.

NOTES, QUOTES

--FS Ryan Clark was penalized, and now he's likely to get a stiff fine from the NFL for a big hit he threw on New England WR Wes Welker on a pass incompletion.

"They said don't leave your feet," Clark said the officials told him.

"If anybody watches the other games we played, I don't turn any of them down. It's not like I'm trying to be cheap. If anybody comes across, it's my job to tackle him, it's my job to hit him."

--LBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for three more sacks and now are the most prolific duo of pass rushers for one season in Steelers history. Harrison sacked Matt Cassel twice, and Woodley sacked him once. That leaves them with a combined 25.5 sacks, surpassing the 24 that Kevin Greene (14) and Greg Lloyd (10) had in 1994, and matched in 2000 by Jason Gildon (13.5) and Joey Porter (10.5).

"It feels real good, but that's not the end of it," Harrison said of the duo's flourish. "We're trying to raise that total to 30-plus."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Ben Roethlisberger has 48 career victories as a starter, tying Dan Marino, Otto Graham and Tom Brady for the most by a starting quarterback in his first five seasons -- and he has four games left.

--WR Santonio Holmes has improved as a punt returner and took one back 29 yards Sunday, his longest of the season.

--LB James Harrison limped and then was carted off the field at halftime because of a hyperextended back. He returned in the second half to record two sacks and two forced fumbles.

--CB Bryant McFadden (broken forearm) missed his sixth consecutive game but is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday vs. Dallas.

--CB Deshea Townsend played in his first game after missing the previous two with hamstring problems. He played in the nickel defense.

--RB Najeh Davenport was cut by the Steelers for the second time this season and the third time this calendar year. Pittsburgh signed him last week when it wasn't sure about Willie Parker's knee. DT Scott Paxson was added to the active roster from the practice squad.

REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Considering the cold, rainy weather, the Steelers did a decent job throwing the ball. Ben Roethlisberger was only 17 of 33 for 179 yards with four dropped passes. He also threw an early interception that helped the Patriots gain a quick 7-0 lead, but he threw two TD passes and was sacked only once.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore shared the duties and produced Pittsburgh's best ground game since opening day. Parker had 87 yards and Moore 67 as the Steelers cranked out 161 yards against New England. Gary Russell rushed for a 1-yard TD at the end. Pittsburgh averaged 4.7 yards a carry.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Matt Cassel managed only 19-of-39 passing for 169 yards against a pressure defense in which he was sacked five times and lost two fumbles on James Harrison sacks. He also threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes. He was victimized by some drops, including two big ones by Randy Moss that might have made a difference, but both sides had them on a tough weather day.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Not up to Steelers standards as they allowed 122 yards -- the most against them this season -- and a 6.1-yard average. Most of those yards, though, came on one late first-half drive in which Kevin Faulk clipped off a 41-yard run, the longest against Pittsburgh this season. Also, the Patriots did not stick with it much, running only 20 times because there was no future in it.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Jeff Reed made four of five field-goal tries, missing a 40-yarder in abhorrent kicking weather. The kickoff team recovered a muffed fumble that set up a score. Gary Russell returned one kickoff 31 yards, and Santonio Holmes had the longest punt return of the season, 29 yards. Mitch Berger returned to do OK in bad weather with three punts for 38.3 yards and no returns.

COACHING: A -- There were no particularly brilliant decisions during the game, but no Steelers team in more than 10 years had come to New England and beaten the Patriots, especially the way Pittsburgh did it on Sunday.


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