4:14 PM EST Troy Aikman says what every commentator has said before every game: "The Steelers are hoping today provides them the opportunity to be more balanced offensively." Yeah, I've heard that one before. Thankfully, the game starts …
1st Quarter What the hell? Is that Sean Morey back on kicks with Najeh Davenport? What, exactly, does that say about, oh I don't know, 40 other guys on the team who have to be better kick returners than Morey. Thankfully, Davenport takes the kick and rumbles all the way to midfield.
4:17 PM EST On the second play of the game, the Steelers run … you guessed it … a screen pass and Ben Roethlisberger has it knocked down at the line of scrimmage. I don't know if the league keeps such stats, but I'd have to believe that Roethlisberger leads the league in balls batted down at the line of scrimmage while attempting to throw a screen pass. I'd also wager that the Steelers lead the NFL in unsuccessful screen passes. Call it a hunch.
4:20 PM EST After one big third-down conversion to Hines Ward to keep the drive alive, Roethlisberger hits Hines Ward for a 37-yard touchdown. People keep saying Ward is slow and he keeps outrunning defensive backs to the end zone. DeAngelo Hall should be so slow.
Saints 0 Steelers 7
Of course, Big Ben gets injured on the play, which is becoming a weekly occurrence. The fact that Pittsburgh's sideline seems unsurprised by Roethlisberger holding his right arm is proof of as much.
4:24 PM EST Morey might not be my first choice for kick returner, but he and Mike Logan make a nice tackle on the kickoff after Ward's touchdown. Where's that been all season?
4:27 PM EST On the Saints second play from scrimmage, the tight end fumbles and Brett Keisel recovers. Huh. New Orleans must be under the impression that turnovers are part of the Heinz Field experience.
4:31 PM EST Big Ben's "injured" right arm certainly looks fine on a laser he just threw to Cedrick Wilson. Two plays later, Roethlisberger seems even better on a play-action fake to Heath Miller. I'm not a defensive coordinator, but somebody might want to cover Miller since he's basically the only guy Big Ben looks for inside the five-yard-line. I can't help but think that a week ago the Steelers were already down 14-0 thanks, in part, to a Santonio Holmes fumble. Hey, maybe the Morey move is just crazy enough to work.
Saints 0 Steelers 14
4:39 PM EST There's the 2006 special teams I remember. Michael Lewis busts out a 43-yard return giving the Saints great starting field position.
4:39 PM EST The Saints get their offense going and watching the other Duce, Deuce McAllister, makes the whole Staley situation even more depressing. A play later, Brees hits Larry Foote right in the numbers with a pass, Foote promptly drops it, and that, in a nutshell, is the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers. And so is the fact that the Saints convert two plays later on a third-and-11.
4:45 PM EST Hey everybody, it's the 2003 season all over again! Brees completes another third-down pass. If David Eckstein played quarterback in the NFL, he'd be Drew Brees. Both are underrated, undersized, smart, scrappy players. Basically, guys I like to hate when they play my team. That said, they're fun to watch against everybody else.
While I'm reminiscing about the little guy making it big, Brees throws a great touchdown pass to some dude named Terrance Cooper. *cough* Ike Taylor *cough* was in coverage. I wonder if that Foote dropped interception will come back to haunt Pittsburgh. I think I have a good idea.
Saints 7 Steelers 14
4:51 PM EST Holmes starts the next drive with a 10-yard catch and the more I see of him, the more I like. Especially as a wideout. As a returner, not so much. And on that note, the first quarter is in the books.
2nd Quarter Saints 7 Steelers 14
4:51 PM EST The Saints get some pressure on Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh punts. I am shocked – SHOCKED – to see the Chris-Gardocki-has-never-had-a-punt-blocked-in-one-million-attempts graphic. I mean, I DID NOT see that coming. Gardocki proceeds to shank one.
4:54 PM EST Ugh. Buck just said that Troy Polamalu is on the bench with a concussion. I was just thinking that Pittsburgh didn't have enough injuries. So this certainly is good news.
4:54 PM EST Meanwhile, Brees continues to carve up the Steelers on third down and Marques Colston, straight from the heavens, is his target on this occasion. You know, Pittsburgh might want to pressure Brees. Just a thought.
5:04 PM EST You won't believe this, but the Saints didn't convert on a third down. Of course, they decide to go for it, and why not? And inexplicably, Colston is open in the middle of the field. Since Anthony Smith was called for a facemask, it wouldn't have much mattered. Like that makes me feel any better.
5:07 PM EST Holy crap. Colston makes a spectacular catch with Taylor in coverage, and to be fair, Taylor was about as well positioned as you can be. That was just unlucky, which seems to be a recurring theme this season. But you already knew that. Either way, the Saints have first-and-goal.
Wow. The Steelers make three stops and the Saints kick a field goal. Maybe God doesn't hate Pittsburgh.
Saints 10 Steelers 14
5:12 PM EST Davenport has his second big return, which makes you realize just how bad the return team has to be for a 250-pound back to take over the duties and look really, really impressive.
5:12 PM EST Big Ben was just sacked after Pittsburgh came out in a five-wide set. If there's one thing that drives me absolutely bonkers, it's when the Steelers go empty backfield and Roethlisberger takes a 27-step drop. Again, I'm no coach, but I think in such situations you want to take a three-step drop and get rid of the ball quickly. And here comes Gardocki.
5:19 PM EST Keisel finally gets to Brees and it's a good thing because Colston was wide open. But maybe the Saints wanted to get in a third-and-long situation because … you guessed it … Brees finds Colston for a 29-yard gain. And just in case you're wondering, it wasn't third-and-35. First down.
5:22 PM EST Aaron Smith was just called for, um … what, exactly? Oh, right. Roughing the passer. I don't like to complain about ridiculous calls so I'll just protest silently.
(protesting silently …)
Did anybody have any doubt he'd do it against the Steelers? I mean, seriously? This is the same team that let Michael Vick throw for four TDs against them. FOUR! And just like that, the Steelers remind us that it's still 2006.
Saints 17 Steelers 14
5:29 PM EST Davenport has another solid kick return. The Steelers haven't had this type of field position since, well, 2005.
Great. Deshea Townsend's going to the locker room with an ankle and a mild concussion, which means we're in Anthony Madison land. In the meantime, Big Ben just had another ball batted down at the line of scrimmage. The good news is that it wasn't a screen pass. I should learn to keep my mouth shut because a play later Holmes takes one down to the Saints' 12-yard-line.
Big Ben then medicine balls one to Nate Washington in the end zone. Nate should've made the catch, but Ben had time, and he should've made a better throw.
5:37 PM EST Wow. On third down the Saints bring the house, Roethlisberger back-foots it in Holmes' direction (the same direction that saw Champ Bailey make his red-zone pick last week) and the ball falls incomplete. Skippy comes in to tie it up.
Saints 17 Steelers 17
5:42 PM EST Sigh. Obviously, Pittsburgh left way too much time on the clock. With 1:12 to go in the half, and the ball on their own 30-yard-line, Brees marches the Saints right down the field and score a touchdown. The big play was a pump-and-go to Colston with Madison in coverage. And when I say "coverage" I mean "Madison got juked out of his britches as Colston blew past him." In case you're keeping score at home, that's seven catches for 128 yards for Colston. In one half of football.
That was about as demoralizing a first-half drive as you'll ever see. Maybe God forgot that he doesn't hate the Steelers.
Saints 24 Steelers 17
3rd Quarter 5:47 PM EST Saints get the ball to start the half and I should mention that Cowher looks unusually subdued. Like he just took a couple of bong hits after downing a Xanax. Weird.
On the first play of the half, Casey Hampton drops into coverage and Brees hits him right in the hands. No way was he catching that, and I can't really blame him. When was the last time somebody even threw a football in his direction? I bet if Pittsburgh painted the football to look like a pizza, he makes the play. Just something to think about at the next owners meeting.
Reggie Bush just ran for a first down on third-and-four. I think Polamalu's absence affects the running game just as much as the passing game.
5:50 PM EST When the officials throw out a Saints player (offensive lineman Jhari Evans) for unnecessary roughness against Joey Porter you know it must've been bad. Like "my dog killed your horse" bad.
5:55 PM EST Holmes wisely fair catches the Saints punt, but the Steelers are backed up at their own 10-yard-line. Despite being down, Big Ben looks good, and he just threw a nice ball to Washington who promptly dropped it. Ugh.
Pittsburgh calls the same play on third down and Washington makes a nice catch. Give Ben credit: He never loses faith in his wideouts. After a nice Willie Parker run, Roethlisberger finds a wide open Heath Miller. You know, Ben's pretty good when he's not concussed.
It's also worth mentioning that at 6:01 PM EST the Steelers ran a screen pass for a 15-yard gain. The very next play they ran a screen pass for a one-yard loss. Just passing that along.
6:03 PM EST Huh. Miller is tackled in the end zone while the ball is in the air and …
(protesting silently …)
On third down, Ben does his now patented jump-throw when in the red zone. This time it was to Washington, who forgot to turn around. If he had, it was probably a touchdown. Instead, Skippy pull hooks a field goal attempt. Yeah, didn't see that coming.
Saints 24 Steelers 17
6:09 PM EST Welcome to Pittsburgh, Reggie Bush. Tyrone Carter causes Bush to fumble and Ryan Clark recovers. Saints coach Sean Payton pulls a "Cowher" and challenges the fumble before seeing a replay. To make the impersonation complete, Payton gives Bush the Cowher Face as he makes his way to the sidelines. The only difference is that Payton looks about as intimidating as a computer programmer.
6:13 PM EST Holy crap. On Pittsburgh's first play, Roethlisberger pumps short and throws a moon ball to Cedrick Wilson for six. As Aikman mentioned during the replay, it was like trying to catch a punt over your shoulder. Whatever, great grab.
Saints 24 Steelers 24
6:17 PM EST
David Eckstein Drew Brees is infuriating to watch. He seemingly makes every play. After niftily avoiding a sack, he burns Ryan Clark on a pump-and-go. Apparently, the pump-and-go is a big part of New Orleans' game plan.
Pittsburgh finally stops Brees on third down – in fact, they cause him to fumble – but the Saints recover. Luckily, 58-year-old John Carney pulls a "Skippy" and hooks one left.
You want to know how bad this season has been? It feels like the Steelers are winning by 21 points after that missed field goal. The game is still tied.
Saints 24 Steelers 24
6:25 PM EST Ben takes another one of his patented coverage sacks deep in Steelers territory but … no need to worry because Fast Willie Parker goes for 72 yards on the very next play. That, my friends, is called changing field position. One quarter to go.
4th Quarter 6:29 PM EST On the first play of the quarter, Parker takes it in for a touchdown and the Steelers are back on top. Wow, what a strange game.
Saints 24 Steelers 31
6:32 PM EST Morey return silliness aside, the coverage teams have looked a million times better than at any other time this season. Maybe Cool Hand Cowher has a calming effect on the special teams.
6:36 PM EST I should just cut-and-paste the following on every third-and-long for the Saints: Brees to Colston for a first down. Seriously, give New Orleans credit: after a disastrous 2005 season, on many levels, this team is pretty freakin' good.
6:38 PM EST Ha. On third-and-seven at Pittsburgh's 40, Brees to Colston … incomplete. Yeah, I was shocked too. Funny story, though. Turns out that Colston got picked by the umpire on his crossing route and that caused him to drop the pass.
My first thought: get Kevin Colbert to sign the umpire up. Given the current condition of the secondary, Pittsburgh needs some warm bodies … especially guys that can cover the crossing patterns.
Oh yeah, Saints have to punt.
6:41 PM EST On Pittsburgh's first play from their 20, Roethlisberger throws a slant to Alligator Arms Wilson who, well, alligator arms the pass for an incompletion. No worries, though, because on second down, Parker goes for 76 yards. You think the Saints were busy game planning Dan Kreider and forgot about Willie Parker? How else do you explain TWO 70-plus yard runs in back-to-back series?
6:44 PM EST Parker scores on the very next play and he's rushed for over 200 yards. That is amazing. With 9:55 to go in the game, I wonder if a 14-point lead will be enough.
Saints 24 Steelers 38
6:48 PM EST Well, Brees thinks nine-plus minutes is more than enough time because he just hit Aaron Stecker on a 48-yard pass play. And Ike Taylor was in coverage. It was pretty good coverage, but hey, the guy caught the ball.
Two plays later, at the Steelers' 12-yard line, a Saints lineman jumped before the snap, and somehow, Casey Hampton gets called for offsides.
(protesting silently … )
6:52 PM EST Okay, Deuce McAllister just scored on maybe the weirdest play ever. Or, at the very least, it was right out of Mularkey's playbook. The center snapped the ball through Brees' legs, McAllister picked the ball up in the backfield, and walks into the end zone. Untouched. The baffling thing is that Brees acted like it was the most normal play in the world. Whatever, we've got a ball game. Again.
Saints 31 Steelers 38
6:58 PM EST Give Ken Whisenhunt credit. With over seven minutes to go, Pittsburgh keeps throwing the ball, and Ward makes a very Colston-esque third-down catch to keep the clock running.
Three plays later, Pittsburgh runs a screen (surprised?) to Davenport and if not for a great tackle by Charles Grant, Dump truck is still running. Instead, Gardocki has to punt and the Saints have four and a half minutes to tie it up.
7:05 PM EST Interestingly, the Saints don't go to their hurry-up offense, or even their no-huddle. Although, I can't really blame them after watching Brees move the ball down the field at will today. Why rush when you don't need to?
7:08 PM EST Okay, I just crapped my pants. Brees hit a wide-open Terrance Copper deep in Pittsburgh territory, but he dropped it. Now it's third down with a minute and a half to go. And you know what that means: Brees converts the first down, this time on a scramble?!?
7:12 PM EST With 45 seconds left, on third-and-10 from Pittsburgh's 45, Brees finds Copper at the 25-yard line. Crazy Tyrone Carter jars the ball loose and Ryan Clark recovers.
How about that? The Steelers get a few bounces to go their way. Finally.
(As I write this, Carter is down and Joe Buck thinks it might be a neck injury. Someone should explain to Buck that Carter is a Cylon and if anything, he's downloading into his new body. Either way, he'll be fine. Right on cue, Carter pops up and runs to the sidelines.)
7:15 PM EST And with that, Big Ben takes a knee and the Steelers ain't dead yet. That's right, baby. One down, seven to go.
Saints 31 Steelers 38