ST. LOUIS - Willie Parker's season ended with a broken leg on his first carry last night, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will miss the NFL's leading rusher if they get to the playoffs. But they don't miss him yet.
Najeh Davenport, a career backup running back with typical non-descript statistics, has two huge games since entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2002. Both have come against the St. Louis Rams, with Davenport's three-touchdown, 123-yard rushing effort pacing a 41-24 victory.
"I took it upon myself to put the offense on my back and carry it," said Davenport, who in 2004 had 178 yards in a Green Bay victory over the Rams. "He's our guy, he's our breadwinner. Not having him, everyone has to pick it up a level."
Parker, who has 1,316 yards, limped off the field with a broken bone in his lower right leg in the first quarter after only one carry for minus-1 yard.
Ben Roethlisberger was 16-for-20 for 261 yards and three touchdowns for the Steelers (10-5), who had lost three of five to fall into a tie with the Browns for the AFC North lead.
The Steelers can clinch the division with a Cleveland loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. They also can clinch a playoff berth if the Titans lose to the Jets. *