By Teresa Varley
Running back Willie Parker was feeling good on Monday and for good reason.
"I have a smile on my face. I am happy," said Parker. "Where else would you rather be? This is my third AFC Championship game since I have been here and it's a great feeling."
And Parker is one of the main reasons why the Steelers were starting to prepare for the Ravens on Monday. Parker had 27 carries for 146 yards against the Chargers, bringing balance to the offense that wore San Diego's defense down.
"It definitely was a great feeling," said Parker. "That is Steelers football to me. Any way you can get the win you get it, but running the football, I love running to win a ball game."
It's been an up and down season for Parker, hampered by injuries that slowed him down, not allowing him to be the back he is used to being.
"All year long I have been banged up and stuff," said Parker. "There was really nothing I could do during that time but struggle. I would hear people nagging about the running game and offense, saying Willie isn't the same, he isn't this, and he isn't that. To get that behind me and be back healthy and running hard it's a great feeling."
Not just for him. His teammates were happy to see Parker have a breakout game as well.
"It's good to see us running the ball," said fullback Carey Davis. "Willie had a great game. That's what we expect from him. He is our go-to guy. I think a lot of people were doubting him early in the season and not realizing he was hurt. When you have a leg injury it's hard for a running back to get your mojo back quickly. It's playoff time, he is 100 percent and he is ready to roll."
There was plenty of protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Chargers, with just one sack allowed. A big thank you for that goes to the success of the running game.
"Guys can't just pin their ears back and get after the quarterback," said Davis. "They have to respect the run. When you are a balanced team you keep defenses off balance. It's easier for our linemen to go out and pass block when they aren't being as pressed as they have been in the last couple of weeks. The balance of the offense we had was a great thing for us."
Ravens safety Ed Reed has the ability to change the flow of a game in a split second, but thanks to a tackle by Max Starks he didn't have that chance when the two teams met in December.
The Steelers were pinned back on their own one-yard line following a punt, when Ben Roethlisberger completed a nine-yard pass to Santonio Holmes. Samari Rolle hit Holmes, forcing a fumble, which Reed recovered at the 21-yard line and started to head towards the end zone. Until Starks made a huge tackle.
"I didn't want him in the end zone and I was the closest one there," said Starks. "I had to make the tackle. I didn't know who had the ball. I just realized it was a guy with a purple jersey who had the ball in his hands, which is not the guy who should have the ball in his hands."
Reed was brought down at the 16-yard line and instead of getting a touchdown on the play the Ravens were held to a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason has seen his share of the Steelers defense and he is impressed by how much they enjoy playing the game.
"They're versatile in what they do," said Mason. "You never know where certain guys are lining up at. Those guys just like to play. That's what I like about them. They like to play football, and you see it in their faces, whether they're up or they're down. Those guys are still playing, and they enjoy playing the football game. I think that's what impresses me about their defense so much – that you have a bunch of guys on that side of the ball who, regardless of the situation they're in, they like to play football."