The New Orleans Saints looked like a first-place team on the field, not just in the standings.
Drew Brees threw five touchdowns for the ninth time in his career as New Orleans dominated the sloppy Pittsburgh Steelers 35-32 on Sunday.
Kenny Stills caught five passes for a career-high 162 yards and a score as the Saints (5-7) ended a three-game losing streak by restoring a little bit of respectability and a sense of order to the NFC South.
The Steelers (7-5) kept New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham in check with no catches, but it hardly mattered. Brees worked Pittsburgh’s secondary over anyway. Ben Watson, Marques Colston, Erik Loring and Nick Toon hauled in touchdowns as New Orleans romped.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 435 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions for the Steelers. Le’Veon Bell caught eight passes for a career-high 159 yards and also added 95 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but Pittsburgh was never really in it over the final three quarters.
New Orleans hardly looked like the team that slouched its way through a three-game skid at home, including a 34-27 loss to Baltimore on Monday night. Six days and 1,100 miles north later, the Saints looked reborn.
Pittsburgh opted to focus on Graham, often double-covering one of the NFL’s biggest weapons. No biggie. Brees completed 19 of 27 passes to nine different receivers. Loring, Watson and Toon hadn’t scored all season but found themselves celebrating in the end zone thanks to some typically sublime play by Brees, who avoided the miscues that have cost New Orleans during its sporadic fall.
Mark Ingram ran for 122 yards as the Saints effectively counterpunched with touchdowns while the Steelers piled up field goals.
Signs of life from one of the league’s most maligned defenses helped. New Orleans forced Roethlisberger into a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. The Pittsburgh quarterback hardly looked like the player who tossed a combined 12 touchdowns in his last two home starts.
The passes that zipped so crisply to open receivers during his record-breaking run sailed high and out of reach and occasionally into the arms of New Orleans defenders. Roethlisberger’s problems started early and were exacerbated when he smacked his right hand off the helmet of Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton late in the first quarter.
The Steelers relied heavily on Bell to take and early 6-0 lead before Brees got it going late in the first half. The Saints put together two long touchdown drives in the second quarter, the first ending with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Watson and the other with a 4-yard toss to the little-used Lorig to make it 14-6 at the half.
New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan tipped a pass by Roethlisberger early in the third quarter and caught it for his first career interception to give the Saints the ball at the Pittsburgh 15. It took Brees two plays to hit Toon for an 11-yard score. The Steelers responded with a 13-play, 83-yard drive that ended with Bell sprinting around left end for his third score of the year.
Pittsburgh’s momentum lasted 2:31, or the time it took New Orleans to go 89 yards. Stills covered the last 69 all by himself, badly beating Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor on a double move. He raced across the goal line to make it 28-16 and Brees completed his best day of the season with a 3-yard lob to Colston.