Maybe doing so before a game, rather than afterward, made the
difference to a team that's convinced its season still isn't over
despite a record that suggests otherwise.
Willie Parker broke free on runs of 72 and 76 yards to set up
two short scoring runs in the second half, Ben Roethlisberger threw
three touchdown passes and the Steelers rallied after giving away a
big lead to beat the New Orleans Saints 38-31 on Sunday.
Parker, who complained after a 31-20 loss to Denver last week
that some teammates weren't as hungry or as focused as they were in
winning the Super Bowl, couldn't be faulted for his effort. He had
213 yards on 22 carries, with scoring runs of 3 and 4 yards in the
fourth quarter. He finished 5 yards short of the team-record 218
yards, set by John "Frenchy" Fuqua against Philadelphia in 1970.
Even after the teams combined for 984 yards, it was coach Bill
Cowher's pregame clubhouse forum that his players were talking
about. Cowher normally does most of the talking, but instead
yielded to some team leaders.
"He said stuff we normally wouldn't say," Parker said of
Porter, who named teammates he felt were underperforming. "I think
we rallied around it, and we rallied around it when he said we've
got to win this game, we're going to win this game."
Smith's emotional speech also made an impact.
"I heard every word he was saying," Parker said. "For a grown
man to get up in front of a lot of other grown men and start to
cry, you got to lay it out on the field."
The Steelers (3-6), keyed up by the meeting, quickly opened a
14-0 lead on touchdown passes to Hines Ward and Heath Miller. But
the Saints (6-3) rallied to a 17-14 lead on Reggie Bush's 15-yard
touchdown run on a double reverse, with Bush tumbling over safety
Ryan Clark to reach the end zone.
They led again 24-17 on Deuce McAllister's 4-yard run, on a
broken play in which the snap from center accidentally squirted to
him, during a 72-yard drive that Brees needed only one minute to
execute late in the first half.
Brees was 31-of-47 for 399 yards, with rookie Marques Colston
making 10 catches for 169 yards, but the Saints turned over the
ball three times to Pittsburgh's none. The Steelers went into the
day with an NFL-leading 24 turnovers, perhaps the major reason they
were 2-6 at midseason.
"We had three turnovers, and that can't happen," Brees said.
"The defense gave up a couple of big plays. That can't happen.
Special teams gave them good field position. That can't happen. If
eliminate one of those, we should have been able to fight back."
The Steelers played most of the final three quarters without
All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Deshea Townsend, who
had concussions. The injuries forced Cowher to go far down the
bench for backups, especially with the Steelers frequently using
five defensive backs.
"We gave up too many points and too many yards (517), but we
competed hard," Porter said. "We got a win and that's all that
After Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed and New Orleans' John Carney missed
field goals from inside the 40 in the third quarter, Roethlisberger
found Cedrick Wilson on a 38-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 24.
Two Saints defenders collided to leave Wilson open. Roethlisberger
was 17-of-28 for 264 yards and no interceptions after being picked
off an NFL-leading 14 times in his first seven starts.
After turning the ball over 10 times in their previous two
games, the Steelers started putting the ball into Parker's hands
during a 187-yard second half in which his two long runs came about
eight minutes apart. The Steelers had been limited to 240 yards
rushing while losing consecutive games to Atlanta, Oakland and
"These are the defending Super Bowl champions, and they know
how to win," Brees said. "They know how to go on a late-season
run and I'm sure they were looking at today to do that. We knew we
were going to get their best game because Joey Porter guaranteed a
victory. We wanted to give them our best game, too."
New Orleans -- 3-13 a season ago -- got close again at 38-31
midway through the fourth quarter on McAllister's second 4-yard
touchdown run. But its last chance of tying or winning ended when
Clark recovered Terrance Copper's fumble at the Steelers 20
following a 25-yard pass play in the final minute.
"This was a game we needed to win," the Saints' Brian Young
said. "There are a lot of people who still think this is last
year's team. We needed to make a statement."
Despite winning for the second time since Sept. 7, the
Steelers stayed four games behind AFC North leader Baltimore (7-2)
with seven games to play. ... Bush ran for 49 yards after being
held to 82 yards on 47 carries in five games. ... Pittsburgh has
won 10 of 11 against the NFC since 2003.
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