ST. LOUIS - The last time Najeh Davenport got this much work, he was also playing against the St. Louis Rams. The career backup's second-career 100-yard rushing game eased the sting, at least for a day, from Willie Parker's season-ending injury in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 41-24 victory over the Rams on Thursday night. It was the first 100-yard game against the Rams all season.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker is taken off the field on a cart after breaking a bone in his lower right leg during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, in St. Louis.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
"I think Najeh did a phenomenal job stepping up and doing all the things that Willie would have done if he had been in there," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We have confidence he can do it."
Subbing for Ahman Green in 2004 for the Green Bay Packers, Davenport handled the Rams for 178 yards in a 45-17 Monday Night victory. After Parker limped off the field with a broken right leg following a 1-yard loss on his only carry of the game, Davenport rushed for 123 yards and one touchdown and caught two passes for 44 yards and a second score.
"I took it upon myself to put the offense on my back and carry it," Davenport said.
Now the Steelers (10-5) need him to do it against somebody else if they want to make a playoff run. Pittsburgh overcame another spotty defensive effort with Ike Taylor's clinching 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter, and got three touchdown passes without an interception from Ben Roethlisberger, but Davenport's effort was the big story.
"It's a good opportunity, but when you lose a guy like Willie it's more about how deep you're going to go in the playoffs," Davenport said. "He's our guy, he's our breadwinner. Not having him, everyone has to pick it up a level."
The Steelers had lost three of five to fall into a tie with the Browns for the AFC North lead. They can clinch the division with a Cleveland loss at Cincinnati on Sunday, and can clinch a playoff berth if the Titans lose to the Jets.
Pittsburgh plays its regular-season finale at Baltimore next Sunday.
"It's just a situation where you have to come out and play hard no matter what," said wide receiver Nate Washington, who caught two touchdown passes. "We want to be in control of our own destiny."
Parker leads the NFL with 1,316 yards, including eight 100-yard games. Parker, Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis are the only players in franchise history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and he was selected to his second Pro Bowl earlier in the week. All of that went out the window after Parker broke a bone in his lower right leg when he was stopped by Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon.
He was injured so early in the game, the Steelers had plenty of time to adjust to the new reality.
"We'll adapt and improvise and move forward," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Nobody cares about our problems."
Isaac Bruce caught a 12-yard touchdown pass and moved ahead of James Lofton for third place on the career yards receiving list, a week after moving into fourth ahead of injured Marvin Harrison. Marc Bulger threw three touchdown passes, breaking a tie with Kurt Warner for fourth on the franchise touchdown pass list, and the Rams retired Marshall Faulk's No. 28 jersey during a halftime ceremony.
But the Rams (3-12) finished a dismal 1-7 home schedule that included three games blacked out on local television because they didn't sell out and virtually shared the home-field advantage for the second straight week after a Packers Cheesehead invasion last week. The finale also had dissension, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Torry Holt caught on television yelling at second-year coach Scott Linehan after Taylor's interception return on an overthrown ball on 4th-and-10.
"It's not a big deal, not to me," Linehan said. "It something said in the heat of the battle to his coach and it's over as far as I'm concerned."
Roethlisberger was 16-for-20 for 261 yards, his first 200-yard game in five weeks. Davenport, who entered the game with 349 yards, a 4.9-yard average and three touchdowns, topped his previous best this season of 58 yards against the Seahawks.
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.
Notes:@ Bulger has 105 touchdown passes. .... Hines Ward had six catches for 59 yards, passing John Stallworth for the Steelers' career lead in yards receiving. He has 8,741, 18 more than Stallworth. ... The Steelers are 15-2 against NFC opponents dating to 2003. This was their first game in St. Louis since 1979. ... The Rams have been outscored 130-40 in the fourth quarter.