PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions early, including one in the end zone, and the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense gave up five touchdowns in a 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Steelers (7-5) continued their pattern of losing to teams with worse records, as the Saints lead the NFC South with a 5-7 mark.
The Saints also have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but the Steelers couldn't take advantage early, as two drives ended in field goals. Shaun Suisham ended the club's second drive with a 49-yard bomb into the open end zone. Then, the Steelers drove 13 plays in six minutes, but two passes into the end zone failed. A bad pass by Roethlisberger couldn't be corralled by Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant couldn't hold onto a pass that hit his hands.
Roethlisberger was injured during the possession, as his right (throwing) hand hit the hand of Saints inside linebacker Curtis Lofton after a 21-yard pass to Brown. He then handed off to Bell five straight times, and the second-year back ripped off a 16-yarder on one of them to surpass the 1,000-yard mark this year. A four-yard pass to former Saints wideout Lance Moore moved the sticks, but the Steelers failed to score again from inside the red zone.
That came back to bite them on the ensuing drive, as Brees drove the Saints 79 yards in eight plays and 3:43. Running back Mark Ingram then gashed the Steelers for a couple big runs totaling 32 yards, while Pierre Thomas added one for 12. Brees covered the final 15 yards with a pass into the end zone to tight end Ben Watson. Will Gay had the coverage. Jimmy Graham wasn't even targeted in the game, but Watson had a couple catches and a score.
After a 45-yard kickoff return by Markus Wheaton, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller open for 13 yards to get into Saints territory. But on the next play, Roethlisberger threw into double coverage in the end zone for Darrius Heyward-Bey. The first-year Steelers wideout ran a horrendous pattern, and Roethlisberger's pass was to the inside. So, it was an easy pick for Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro.
The Steelers' vaunted defense, supposedly buoyed by the return of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor this week -- but still without Ryan Shazier and Steve McLendon -- continued to get gashed for big runs up the middle. Cam Thomas proved that he could play equally as poorly on the nose as he did at right end, as Ingram smashed up the middle several times during a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended in 3:46 when Brees hit fullback Erik Long in the flat. Sean Spence was close, but couldn't bring him down until he fell into the end zone.
The Steelers appeared to be on their way to putting more points on the board at the end of the first half after Roethlisberger connected with Miller for 23 and Brown for 21, but he missed a wide-open Miller on the next play and couldn't connect with Brown twice. So, Suisham had to try a 54-yard field goal and left it a couple yards short. And the Saints took a 14-6 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Steelers forced a punt on the Saints opening drive of the second half, but Roethlisberger was picked again when the Steelers got the ball. After an 11-yard hookup with Miller, Roethlisberger's next attempt was batted by right end Cameron Jordan. He also collected the rebound and rumbled a few yards to set up the Saints at the 15. After a short Ingram run, Brees hit Nick Toon in the flat. Polamalu and Gay fanned on the tackle, and Toon rolled into the end zone, as Lawrence Timmons failed to stop him short as well.
The Steelers figured out how to stop the Saints offense midway through the third quarter. They held the ball for 13 plays and 7:04, as Roethlisberger led an 83-yard scoring drive. Passes to Bell went for 15 and 13 yards, as the running back split out. Miller hauled in a 12-yarder, and Brown caught one for 16 yards to the 1. Bell then raced to the pylon from there, and the Steelers trailed 21-13 with 4:21 left in the third.
The problem, however, was that the Steelers had to continue to play defense. And the group continued not recognizing when Stills was on the field. He hauled in a 21-yarder for a first down early in the drive, and he was wide open again on third-and-10. Taylor blew the coverage, and no safety helped up top on a 69-yard catch-and-cruise into the end zone to make it 28-13, Saints.
Suisham added a 49-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter, but trading three points for each seven that the Saints got wasn't going to work. There also were two defensive injuries that hampered the Steelers. Cornerback Brice McCain left early in the game with a hamstring injury, putting everything on Taylor and Gay, with Antwon Blake on the field in passing situations. And Brett Keisel was sidelined with a left triceps injury. He could be done for the season, depending on the severity, but this injury is never good.
The Steelers' fate was sealed a short time later, as Brees led a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive in 4:27. He connected with Stills for 18 yards on a play that was challenged by Saints coach Sean Payton. It was ruled no-catch by the officials, but was changed after the review. On third down, Ingram rumbled for 31 yards to the 6-yard line, and a personal foul afterward made it first-and-goal at the 3. Brees then found Colston for the touchdown.
The Steelers' offense took advantage of its ensuing possession, but it was too little too late. A 13-play, 95-yard scoring drive in 3:20 got the Steelers closer, but an onside kick attempt bounced out of bounds to end any chance at a comeback for the home team.
On the Steelers scoring drive, Roethlisberger was sharp. He hit Wheaton for 10 and took advantage of Keenan Lewis' hands-to-the-face penalty. Roethlisberger connected with Moore for nine, Brown for 13 and Wheaton for 15 to the 8. After another Lewis penalty, his third or fourth on the day, it was first-and-goal at the 4. Two incomplete passes forced Roethlisberger to return to Brown for the short score. Brown also caught the two-point conversion to cut the Saints' lead to 35-24, but they couldn't get an onside kick and had to force a punt.
That kick landed at the 2, but Roethlisberger went 98 yards in just five plays and 1:02. The big play was a 33-yarder to Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers scored on a three-yard pass to Brown, and Moore caught the two-point conversion. But it was too little, too late, as the time expired on the touchdown.
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