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Defense propels Saints to crucial bounce-back victory

by | Special to

NEW ORLEANS -- Ladell Betts might have saved the New Orleans Saints' season.

We're not talking about Betts' 4-yard run on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers that set up Drew Brees' 16-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston either. It's a play that shows up in the stats as negatives for Brees and Betts.

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Steelers kicker Jeff Reed had missed a field goal and the Saints were on a drive that had touchdown written all over it. But Brees threw a bad ball behind Betts and he couldn't hang on. It stalled the offensive drive and left the Saints to settle for a 31-yard field goal by shaky kicker Garrett Hartley.

So how in the hell would that qualify as saving the season, you ask?

If Betts catches the pass, he would have been tackled almost immediately and would have been short of the first down. With no timeouts and it being fourth down, Brees spiking the ball wouldn't have been an option and there's no way the field-goal unit would have made it out on the field to even try a game-tying field goal.

The Saints would have come away with no points and down 3-0 going into halftime with no momentum whatsoever and a sellout crowd ready to turn against the Saints. The goal-line stand the Saints defense mustered earlier in the first half would have been for naught.

It's the subtle, quirky and smallest of dominoes that fell in the right direction for this previously muddling team that helped them come away with a 20-10 victory against the Steelers on Sunday night.

And it might have saved the season, because beating the Steelers was bigger than any Saints player was willing to admit coming into Sunday night's tussle between the past two Super Bowl champs. Grades
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Other than Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown run, the Steelers offense was clueless against the blitzing Saints defense. Ben Roethlisberger was flustered all game. The defense held off the Saints as long as it could, but the offense did the defense no favors.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees had a shaky moment or two, but he orchestrated two second-half drives that looked a lot like the Super Bowl Saints. The running game, though, was nonexistent. The Saints haven't cured all their ills, but a win like this can jumpstart the process.
By Larry Holder
RapidReports Correspondent

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"Talk about must-wins, you put that in the category of a must-win," safety Darren Sharper said.

Wide receiver Lance Moore added: "We needed this. I think we were the hungrier team today. We needed this win, especially coming off playing so poorly last weekend. It was important for us to come out here and execute and do whatever it took to win. We did that."

The Saints defense has been playing stout all year and showed up the Steelers' rather stout unit on Sunday. They bullied Ben Roethlisberger all game; he had no clue how to handle the complex schemes Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams shoved in Big Ben's grill.

"Being able to beat this team, which is a team a lot of people think is the best team in the NFL, we were able to come in and really play well," defensive end Alex Brown said. "Aside for one drive, they didn't get a whole lot. What we were able to show is that we've got a pretty damn good defense here as well. That's what I think we were able to show. ... We're playing pretty sound defense. We've just got to keep it going. If we can add turnovers to it, then I think it will take us over that hump into the dominant area. We believe we can be that dominant defense."

Those opportune turnovers finally arrived, and it's probably not a coincidence they arrived in Sharper's second week back off the PUP list. The ball-hawking Sharper happened to be in the right place at the right time when linebacker Marvin Mitchell hammered the ball loose from Steelers tight end Heath Miller and the ball just happened to float right into Sharper's hands.

Now all the Saints offense had to do was put the Steelers away, which has been a rarity in 2010.

The Guinness Book of World Records verified that this game set the world record for a Halloween event with 17,777 people in costume. Up until the fourth quarter, the Saints offense made it 17,788 as it pretended to be the Saints offense when in fact it was a shell of itself.

In the fourth quarter, they took off their costumes and underneath were the players we've grown accustomed to throughout their championship run -- and really since Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans.

"It was our turn," Brees said.

Brees completed all five of his passes the drive following the Sharper turnover and threaded the needle to Moore eight plays later for the game-sealing score. What might have been more telling was that Brees did this after coughing the ball away on the previous drive when untouched Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden popped Brees on a blitz.

"The defense is carrying us, man," Moore said. "There hasn't really been a game where the offense has showed up and looked the way we can look. They definitely made plays for us. They've kept us in games when we were behind. We just have to do a better job of playing a complementary game with them and we'll be running on all cylinders."

Earlier this week, linebacker Scott Shanle said the Saints lacked confidence and swagger. Shanle said late Sunday night that beating the Steelers in this fashion could be a season-changing victory.

"After losing to Cleveland last week, I told coach [Joe] Vitt that this was the perfect time to play this game. After the Cleveland loss, we need to be on prime time. We need to play against an elite team. We needed to go out there and prove to ourselves that the Cleveland game was a joke. It wasn't the real Saints and we did that [Sunday]."

There was an in-house promo blasting on the Superdome big screens with the narrator ending the spot by saying, "We still believe, and it ain't over yet."

It still applies to this Saints team. A team with renewed life.


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