Sunday notebook:

The Pittsburgh Steelers will need their running game to beat the Baltimore Ravens today, but Willie Parker's history isn't a great barometer. This and other notes concerning the AFC Championship Game are below:

PITTSBURGH – Willie Parker's 146-yard performance last week was his most productive in more than two years – 223 yards on Dec. 7, 2006 – and the third highest of his career.

Parker appeared healthy against the San Diego Chargers and their 11th-ranked rushing defense, but it doesn't particularly bode well for tonight's game against the 3rd-ranked Baltimore Ravens, a team that's shut Parker down throughout his career.

In six games against the Ravens, Parker's carried 92 times for 262 yards (2.8 avg.) His average output is 43.7 yards, and his high was 63 yards on 14 carries in a 2005 game. In the last four games against the Ravens, Parker averaged 15 carries for 35 yards (2.3 avg.).

Obviously, the Steelers must find another way to win tonight's game.

"Who's to say he can't have success this time?" countered Hines Ward. "They've done a great job containing Willie; a lot of teams have. But all it takes is one game. We are going to go out there and try to establish our running game and hopefully we can open it up.

"You know Willie (Parker) feels good. The offensive line played this team twice already this year, so they understand what type of blitz and different problems they are going to present us. It's really going to come down to whatever team executes the game plan. If we can go out there and do that, we'll be fine."

Adding fuel to Ward's argument is the success Chris Johnson enjoyed last week against the Ravens. Similar in style to Parker, Johnson rushed for 72 yards on 11 carries before leaving the game in the middle of the second quarter with an ankle injury. The injury occurred when Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs converged on Johnson and "broke him in half," as TV analyst Dan Dierdorf put it at the time.

"I read all the experts say we would have given up 150 yards to the running back from Tennessee," said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "But remember, he never finished the game for some reason. Whatever that reason is, they can cry all they want."

Parker said he felt encouraged by Johnson's success.

"He's a guy that has a similar running style to what I have," Parker said. "I definitely was encouraged. But you know how Baltimore is with us; they are definitely going to be stingy."

Q&A: JAMES FARRIOR

Q: How is this different than the 2004 AFCCG?

A: I think guys are more relaxed. I think being 15-1 that year we had a lot of expectations put on us that year. When you're 15-1, nobody expects you to lose. You're expected to go to the Super Bowl and win it all. Anything less than that is unacceptable. We went into that game thinking we had to win that game to go to the Super Bowl, not ‘We've got to beat the Patriots.'

Q: More joy this time?

A: There is a different feeling; I just can't put my finger on what makes it different. I just think guys are more relaxed and more confident. We're just going to go out and play our game.

Q: What's your favorite Tomlin-ism?

A: No question it's ‘When the rubber meets the road.'

Q: Any others?

A: ‘It is what it is.'

Q: You really like that?

A: Yeah, I do. And ‘No bones Wednesday.'

Q: What's that mean?

A: That means no breaks. Wednesday is a tough day. You go to work with your hard hat on. No breaks.

Q: How about, ‘Defend every blade of grass?'

A: I like that one, too.

Q: Sometimes Heinz Field doesn't have a blade of grass.

A: Yeah, you have to defend every grain of sand.

Q: Will the rivalry be intensified by this game? A: No question. Somebody's going to be mad after this one. It's going to raise the level. I think Bart Scott said ‘It's going to raise the level of hatred between the two teams,' and I believe that.

THIRD TIME A CHARM

Since the NFL-AFL merger, the team that's gone for a 3-game sweep of its opponent has been successful three out of four times. But that hasn't stopped the spreading of the myth that it's next to impossible to beat a team three times in one season.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, of course, was asked about it this week.

"I've always been one to take the approach that each individual performance stands on its own," he said. "Whether or not we win this game will be based on how we prepare and how we play this game and not really what's happened in the past." The only team to lose in the conference finals after beating a team twice in the regular season was Seattle, which lost to the Los Angeles Raiders in Los Angeles, 30-14, in January, 1984.

QUOTABLE

-- Ed Reed, who has four career interceptions against the Steelers, on Troy Polamalu: "As much as guys are aware of me, they've got to be aware of him when he's on the field. Troy is another guy who's right there knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame."

-- Aaron Smith on the Ravens' use of an unbalanced line: "You just slide down and know where you're at. You get so used to seeing the ball in the center. I think it's more about confusion than a matchup advantage."

-- John Harbaugh on what impresses him most about Ben Roethlisberger: "I'm most impressed that he chose Miami (Ohio) University. I am most proud of that because he is a fellow alum."

-- Trevor Pryce on appreciating each playoff run: "The funny thing is, out of the four AFC Championships that I have played in, three of them are against Pittsburgh. That's really bizarre to me. I guess I'm always looking at them every time I see the schedule, and I'm like, ‘Here we go again.'"

-- LaMarr Woodley on the Steelers' scariest offensive player: "I would have to say Willie Colon, our right tackle. He plays so physical each and every day. How he plays is how he practices. He's one of those guys that constantly gets after you and works hard every day. That would be the guy I think that would be the challenge."


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