By Sam Kasan
Willie Parker is back and in a big way.
Parker fielded questions all off-season regarding his recovery from last year's season-ending broken right fibula in Week 16 at St. Louis.
On Sunday, he answered those questions with an exclamation point, rushing for 138 yards on 25 carries (5.5 avg.) and three touchdowns in a 38-17 victory over the Houston Texans.
"I just wanted to get back out there and just play," Parker said. "It seems like it's been a long time coming. It seems like I've been waiting forever. I just wanted to get out there and make some plays."
And that he did.
"Willie Parker looked like we expected him to look," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He is a very good back and a great competitor. I am glad that he is a Steeler."
Parker rushed for over 100 yards in a season opener for the fourth straight year and his three rushing touchdowns were a single-game high, tying a Steelers record for most rushing touchdowns in a game. The three touchdowns already surpassing his 2007 total, when he only score two touchdowns.
"It's definitely something I always wanted to do," said Parker of getting in the end zone. "Last year, I wanted to do more, being a goal-line back, that's part of being a running back, finishing off the drive."
Parker, who is coming off of back-to-back Pro Bowl selections, rushed for 1,317 yards through 14 games last season, which was best in the NFL at that juncture. Some wondered if he would return to form after suffering the first major injury of his career.
His performance on Sunday should put those questions to rest, showing he still maintained his normal speed and burst.
"Willie always looks good out there," said Chris Kemoeatu. "You don't need to block that much. You just hold them off for a little bit. Give him a crease and Willie's going to make something happen."
Parker scored the game's first two touchdowns with runs of seven and 13 yards. Parker and the Steelers made a statement on their opening possession of the second half when they kept the ball on the ground and he carried the ball seven times for 41 yards, capping the drive with a four-yard touchdown.
"We pride ourselves on running the ball," said left tackle Marvel Smith. "To be able to start the half like that sent a message. We grind the ball and there wasn't anything they could do that whole to stop us."
Parker showed a little bit of everything on his final carry of the day. He took the handoff and ran to his right, juked Texans cornerback Fred Bennett and trotted for a 32-yard gain. At the end of the run Parker headed out of bounds to avoid unnecessarily getting hit.
"I was a little tired," said Parker.
Which is understandable considering he also played a little defense, tracking down Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans after a fumble recovery.
"When I chased him down it took a lot out of me," said Parker, who along with other starters was rested in the third quarter with the Steelers holding a comfortable lead. "I think I need to condition a little more."
Parker's 138 yards is his highest rushing total since setting a team single-game record with 223 yards on Dec. 7, 2006 against Cleveland.
Still, Parker tried to remain cautious about the early success.
"It's just the first game," he said. "We have 15 more games. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
Notes: Parker's 100-yard performance was the 22nd of his career. The last Steeler to rush for three touchdowns in one game was Jerome Bettis, who achieved the feat against Detroit on Jan. 1, 2006.