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N.O. Saints offense steps up in 32-29 win over Pittsburgh

By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
Oct. 7, 2002
NEW ORLEANS The New Orleans Saints wanted to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for their coach, so the offense made sure it happened and the defense made sure it stayed interesting.
The Saints put up points on seven of its first eight possessions en-route to outscoring the Steelers 32-29 in the Louisiana Superdome.
And as is usually the case with the Saints, that took quite a while.
After Saints kicker John Carney booted a 48-yarder the final of his four field goals with 11:21 remaining, the Steelers found themselves trailing by 11 at 32-21.
At that point, the Steelers (1-4) went to work behind their vaunted running game, piecing together an eight-play, 47-yard drive that was capped with a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tommy Maddox to Terance Mathis. Hines Ward hauled in the 2-point conversion try for the final margin to keep the crowd of 67,734 in their seats with only 1:36 to go.
But Saints safety and special teamer Jay Bellamy snagged the Steelers ensuing onside kick attempt to erase all doubt as to the final outcome.
And unlike previous weeks, since the departure of injured Philadelphia native Fred McAfee, the coach actually found reason to praise the kick and coverage units.
Another foul trend that was put to bed Sunday dealt with falling behind early.
The Saints (4-1) did not dig themselves an initial hole. Instead, they established the early lead, jumping out to a 13-0 margin behind a 15-yard Jerome Pathon touchdown catch, which was sandwiched between a pair of Carney 3-pointers.
But when the visitors did get going, they hardly looked like a team with only one win under its belt.
Maddox, replacing Kordell Stewart and getting his first start of the season and first in the NFL since 1992, hardly looked like a backup either.
The former XFL MVP performed admirably in the face of a consistent pass rush, completing 22-of-38 passes for 268 yards and three scores to go with a late interception by Saints strong safety Sammy Knight.
His first TD pass went to Plaxico Buress to get Pittsburgh on the board with 5:21 remaining in the first half. The Saints quickly answered back with the first of a pair of big plays that electrified the fans.
On the team's first snap from scrimmage quarterback Aaron Brooks found Pathon streaking all alone down the right sideline to set up a 1-yard TD leap for Ole Miss alumnus Deuce McAllister.
Although the 2-point conversion failed, it was the first of a pair of scores by the Morton native who continues to draw rave reviews for his penchant for big gains.
On the afternoon, he toted the ball 23 times for 123 yards, including a spectacular 52-yard jaunt for his final TD which gave the Saints their second 12-point lead of the game at 26-14, just two minutes into the second half.
But, to their credit, after the first quarter, the Steelers answered nearly every shot fired by the Saints.
Maddox found Ward on a 2-yard throw to cut it to 19-14 before halftime. Officials originally ruled the pass incomplete, but then called it a touchdown after reviewing the play.
Jerome Bettis did heavy damage of his own accounting 84 of the Steelers 120 rushing yards on 19 carries. He busted in from six yards out to pull Pittsburgh to within five at 26-21 with six minutes left in the third frame.
It finished a bruising and lengthy, 80-yard drive, which included a pair of third-down conversions and one on fourth down. The production lasted almost seven minutes.
With McAllister seemingly clicking on all cylinders, it seemed to be a quiet day for Brooks, save for a pair of big strikes to Pathon and Horn. He finished with 14-of-24 passing for 207 yards and a touchdown for a quarterback rating of 100.5.