Fumbled comeback frustrating, revealing

Frustration was a natural feeling for Steelers fans last night, but Mike Prisuta found a silver lining in the 20-10 loss to the Saints.

NEW ORLEANS -- Mike Tomlin started with a "tip of the hat to Coach Peyton and company" in the wake of Saints 20, Steelers 10, so we'll do the same.

If the Steelers had won a game against a team as good as the Steelers despite not having both starting cornerbacks and a player as talented and influential as Reggie Bush, we'd be planning a parade route right about now.

As it is we have to acknowledge the resourcefulness of the New Orleans coaching staff and the resiliency of the Saints' players.

From there, the post-game reactions and responses were a little off the mark in that they were a little late in coming. We're speaking specifically now about Ben Roethlisberger's contention that the loss amounts to a "gut check" for his suddenly twice-beaten football team.

The gut check actually came at the 13:00 mark of the fourth quarter, when Drew Brees hit Marques Colston for the 16-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a 13-3 lead.

The Steelers' response at that point had to be just about everything you hoped it would be, even if the final result was less than you're willing to accept right about now.

It took all of four plays for the Steelers to make it a game again, as Roethlisberger hit Matt Spaeth for 9, Hines Ward for 12 and Mike Wallace for 9, and then Rashard Mendenhall bolted 38 yards into the end zone. Now it was 13-10.

The Steelers then produced the defensive stop they needed, one that was more spectacular than conventional.

A 50-yard completion from Brees to Robert Meachem -- Troy Polamalu said he dropped the ball on the coverage -- set New Orleans up at the Steelers 26-yard line. But on third-and-4 from the 20, Dick LeBeau dialed up a blitz that sprung Bryant McFadden clean to the quarterback and a sack/fumble was the result.

First-and-10 Steelers from the Pittsburgh 27, 8:01 left in regulation.

Less than two minutes later the Steelers were seemingly in business again, as Heath Miller, after accepting a short pass from Roethlisberger, was in the process of making a defender miss and rumbling to the New Orleans 34.It was at that exact spot that linebacker Marvin Mitchell hit Miller just right and dislodged the ball.

It fell into the waiting arms of Darren Sharper before it had a chance to hit the ground and that, basically, was the ballgame.

You'll have that on occasion, but if you're the Steelers you'll take your chances with Roethlisberger-to-Miller again the next time and every time thereafter.

The Saints took advantage of their second chance this time and put the game away. Defending Super Bowl champions are capable of such things, especially at home. But the Steelers almost stole it.

Despite an inconsistent running game, despite New Orleans' absolute refusal to allow any deep balls by relying heavily on a safety/center fielder between 20 and 25 yards off the ball pre-snap and, most of all, despite more issues than the Steelers had envisioned having been created by a crowd that Max Starks said was louder than the one the Steelers encountered in November of 2005 in Indianapolis, they were in position to win the game when the game was there for the taking.

As it turned out the visitors were pretty resilient on Sunday night, as well.

Considering all of that, even Roethlisberger concluded "I don't think it's panic time." It isn't.

My biggest disappointment from all that transpired in what became a fourth quarter of punch-counter punch was not getting a chance to see what would have happened had Miller not fumbled.

I'm fairly certain it'll be a long time before something such as that happens again.

The bottom line from the Bayou?

Game lost, but gut check passed.

On to Cincinnati.


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