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‘Our Defense Stopped Anybody:’ Willie Parker Wasn’t Worried After Jerome Bettis Fumble In 2005 AFC Title Game


The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers are an incredible story as they became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl and in the process sent off Hall of Fame Jerome Bettis with a win in his hometown of Detroit. But, to get there and make history, the Steelers had to sweat out a Divisional Round game against the Indianapolis Colts after a Bettis fumble.

Throughout the 2005 playoffs, Steelers RB Willie Parker played a big part, rushing for 225 yards and scoring two touchdowns, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl that still holds the record for the longest run in Super Bowl history.

Recently Parker joined Joe Starkey on 93.7 The Fan and discussed that playoff run, and particularly the moment in the Colts game after Bettis fumbled and it looked the the Colts might win, or at least tie the game in the final minute.

“I was picking my heart up off the grass, off the sideline,” recalled Parker. “Man, everything dropped, everything like just dropped, my jaw dropped, I had to pick that up. Man, you just don’t understand. It was like a feeling like, ‘Whew, we did it.’ I said we did it. Once Ben made that tackle I knew we had a shot, our defense was unstoppable. Our defense stopped anybody. You wouldn’t mess with our defense any type of way.”

Bettis was one of the most reliable running backs, and everyone in the RCA Dome that day expected him to score with the ball at the two-yard line, but he didn’t. A shoestring tackle by QB Ben Roethlisberger stopped Colts DB Nick Harper from returning the fumble for six points and in turn the lead, making a tackle at the Indianapolis 42-yard line.

Roethlisberger making that tackle led to Pittsburgh’s defense having a chance to close out the game, and the defense was on fire all season. Pittsburgh’s 2005 defense finished the season ranked third in points against, allowing only 16.1 per game and fourth in yards against. They were simply dominant, and all game against the Colts in the divisional round they made life difficult for QB Peyton Manning and company.

Manning’s Colts were a juggernaut that season, starting the year 13-0 including a 26-7 thrashing of Pittsburgh at the RCA Dome earlier that year. The Colts averaged 27.4 points per game in 2005, second best in the NFL, but when it mattered in the playoffs, the Steelers’ defense showed why defense wins champions.

Pittsburgh’s defense, led by OLB Joey Porter and SS Troy Polamalu held the high-flying Colts to 18 points through 59 minutes. With a minute left, the Steelers defense allowed the Colts to drive only 30 yards despite Indianapolis having all the momentum and being at home. Two huge pass breakups by rookie CB Bryant McFadden forced Colts K Mike Vanderjagt to attempt a 46-yard field goal that he shanked.

As Parker said, he trusted the Steelers’ defense to get the job done, and they did. Nowadays 46-yard field goals feel like a chip shot, but back in 2005, that wasn’t the case. Pittsburgh’s defense stood tall, not allowing a last-minute touchdown and forcing a fairly long field goal that the Colts missed. Once Roethlisberger made that tackle, it was up to the Steelers defense, and I bet most players on that 2005 team expected them to come through.

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