- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

They re-established the Steelers’ tradition of winning football games by dominating up front. They got solid pass protection from a revamped offensive line, which allowed the quarterback to be sacked 47 times last year.

They next face a team that was expected to challenge in the division but instead appears on the verge of defensive disarray.

And all around them, other AFC contenders sustained crippling injuries or disappointing defeats that flipped the conference into complete flux.

Yes, it has been a good week for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers took care of their own business in routing the Houston Texans 38-17, getting 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Willie Parker. Opening the holes and keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright was a line that has new starters at left guard and center.

“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” second-year coach Mike Tomlin said. “When we met the night before the game, we talked about September football. … It was going to be a game of attrition. Both lines got after people and finished plays.”

The combination of Pittsburgh’s beginning and the misfortune of other AFC contenders has turned the Steelers into a threat even with the league’s toughest schedule.

New England is a mystery after losing Tom Brady for the season. San Diego will suffer after losing top defensive player Shawne Merriman for the year. Jacksonville will be without three starting offensive linemen for the next several weeks. Tennessee will play on without quarterback Vince Young (whose drama could have an impact in the locker room). And Indianapolis is already without center Jeff Saturday and still has quarterback Peyton Manning working off the rust.

All of that has provided Pittsburgh with an opportunity: start fast. The Steelers play at Cleveland on Sunday night against a defense that was torched for 487 yards by Dallas in Week 1.

Pittsburgh should start 5-2.

Parker, who was lost last year to a broken leg in Week 15, certainly started the right way. In the playoff loss to Jacksonville, Pittsburgh rushed 26 times for only 43 yards.

The Steelers used their first-round draft pick on running back Rashard Mendenhall, but Parker has established himself as the No. 1 back.

“I ran with a great passion,” he said. “Last year when I got hurt, I reflected back on my career, and I saw I took a lot of things for granted. My coming back would be a new era, a new beginning for me.”

That passion was exhibited as Parker kept plugging away against the Texans. In the first half, he had two touchdowns but also five runs that gained 2 or fewer yards. In the second half, he had gains off 12, 9, 8, 6, 9, 13 and 32 yards.

Benefiting from Parker’s return was Roethlisberger, who was sacked 93 times in 2006-07. The Steelers opted to let Alan Faneca go to the Jets for a $40 million contract and replaced him with the inexperienced Chris Kemoeatu and signed veteran Justin Hartwig to replace the traded Sean Mahan.

While the start was impressive, so was last year’s 3-0 and 7-2 start that disintegrated into a first-weekend playoff exit. But after the way last year ended and the uncertainty up front and at linebacker, the Steelers will take a good start.

“We did some good things, but it’s just one week,” left tackle Marvel Smith said. “You can’t be satisfied with one win. We’ve got to keep doing it.”

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