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11-01-2010, 07:38 AM
Saints' pass game lethal
Monday, November 01, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NEW ORLEANS -- Pulling a win out of this town as long as quarterback Drew Brees works here is an onerous undertaking in the best of circumstances, but on a Halloween night it's nearly as difficult as finding a sober person.

What you need, among 100 other things, is a monster of a play at a crucial moment, and Steelers corner Bryant McFadden actually thought he had made it.

"I think it gave us an opportunity," McFadden said of the Brees fumble he forced on a corner blitz in a throbbing fourth quarter. "It was the kind of play you need in this kind of atmosphere, but they came right back and made another one."

Three plays later, to be precise.

Saints linebacker Marvin Mitchell banged into tight end Heath Miller at the end of a 25-yard completion, snatching all of the swelling momentum from a Steelers offense that would not score again Sunday night in a 20-10 loss, their first on the road after three victories.

That the Steelers managed to hang around as long as they did was itself something of an accomplishment given the inconvenience that their normally excellent defense was joined by understudies at both defensive ends for this NBC showcase. Still Steelers defenders brought the typically impenetrable run defense, forcing the defending Super Bowl champions to wear the unflattering costume of a one-dimensional offense throwing the football around pretty much indiscriminately.

"They played one-dimensional, and they beat us with it," defensive captain James Farrior said. "Brees is just an excellent quarter. If you give him time to read the defense, he's gonna kill you."

Nick Eason was making his quasi-annual NFL start in lieu of Brett Keisel, only his 11th in eight seasons, which was exactly 11 more than Ziggy Hood, who was to masquerade as Aaron Smith.

They were plenty enough convincing.

By halftime, the Saints had all of 15 rushing yards and never advanced the football more than 22 yards until their final possession of the second quarter, on which Brees force-fed his skittish receivers until they reached the Steelers' 13, or until Ladell Betts dropped Brees' sixth pass of the drive that tied the score at 3-3.

When the second half began in much the same fashion, alarm bells rang up and down the Steelers sideline, by which I mean figuratively, of course, because had they rung literally, no one would have heard them anyway in a Louisiana Superdome pounding with noise from a virtually all-costumed crowd of 70,011.

"They weren't very good when I was growing up here, but the fans, they've always been like that," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "They're tenacious fans. It's an amazing place to play."

By the way, those last 11 people in the attendance figure were not the Ben Roethlisberger-led offense, which stayed invisible long into the game.

Brees, by marked contrast, seemed to have some things figured out by the third quarter, when he drilled Julius Jones in the right flat for a 13-yard pickup to the Steelers' 43, then found wideout Lance Moore for 18 more to the 25. Brees' little third-down swing pass gained a first down at the 3, and Troy Polamalu's not-terribly-obvious interference penalty gave New Orleans a first-and-goal at the 1.

A series of Saints brain cramps ensued.

After that, Brees mostly did the only thing he could do, which was pass the Saints to a 13-3 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Marques Colston beat Bryant McFadden one-on-one from the Steelers' 16 for the first touchdown of the game, by which time it was apparent that Brees had found an ominous rhythm.

"They competed and executed extremely well," said McFadden, "and we had some miscues ... ."

Brees electrified the crowd with a 50-yard strike to Robert Meachem at the Steelers' 26. Searching desperately for an answer, Dick LeBeau came up with one. He would have McFadden ram into the quarterback, and force a fumble that would be recovered by LaMarr Woodley. Just the way he had drawn it up, it happened, shifting momentum so dramatically it seemed to lift reluctant Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger hit Matt Spaeth for a first down on his next opportunity, then found Miller roaming free in the middle on the play that would end badly. Spinning out of one tackle, Miller inadvertently spun into Mitchell, a collision that popped the ball free like a bar of soap and smack into the belly of veteran safety Darren Sharper.

All that happened at the New Orleans' 45, from where Brees began a clinching drive against a defense that, for all its decorated merits at stopping the run, is allowing an unacceptable rate of pass completions. When the game started, opponents were hitting on 66 percent of their passes. By the time Brees found Moore with a 9-yard touchdown pass over the outstretched arm of Timmons, he had completed 34 of 44, or 77 percent.

There's no point in making the opponent one-dimensional if that one dimension is lethal.
Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

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