What had become a cozy home-away-from-home feeling abandoned the Steelers Sunday night in what Mike Tomlin correctly called a "hostile environment" that apparently caught players and coaches off-guard and left them confused.
The Steelers had won four consecutive road games as they pulled into New Orleans, some of them before their loud and adoring road-warrior fans, who poured out for both games in Florida, Tampa and Miami. The Superdome was different.
As usual, many Steelers fans attended, and they made their presence known. But Saints fans overwhelmed them, and Tomlin and the players cited the noise as a factor in the 20-10 loss.
"It was worse than Indianapolis in 2005 the first time we played them," offensive tackle Max Starks said, referring to the infamous game in the Colts' old indoor arena in which the Steelers alleged crowd noise was illegally amplified by the home team.
Starks said the noise almost was unexpected and made it sound as if the players were unprepared for it.
"The communication aspect of it is what kind of gets lost," Starks said. "You try to make calls. If someone is making a call on the right side of the line and you try to hear it on the left side, it gets pretty tough and the center can't pass that down because he usually has his head between his legs waiting for the quarterback.
"It's a tough situation to get in. We finally figured out a way to do that and overcame it. But we didn't overcome it quick enough."
No one on the Steelers' side -- players nor coaches on the field nor the sideline and particularly not the coaches in the box upstairs who have television replays in front of them -- raised an issue on Rashard Mendenhall's run on second down on the first goal-line series of the game, in the second quarter. Mendenhall appeared to get the ball over the line, or at least on it.
Even though Tomlin wasted an earlier replay challenge on a non-fumble by New Orleans that replay quickly showed was clearly a non-fumble, he took a pass on using his final replay challenge that might have resulted in a 7-0 Steelers lead.
"When you're on the road, you don't get the [good] looks at replays," Tomlin said. "I didn't get that sense from our guys, particularly Rashard that he thought he was in, so I didn't challenge."
Home scoreboards rarely show a replay to help the visiting team decide if it should challenge the call. NBC-TV, however, showed a fine shot of Mendenhall crossing the goal line and did so in a timely manner. All the coaches in the box would have had to do was watch and tell their head coach to challenge.
Confusion seemed to reign in the 'Dome, the Steelers' first indoors game since they struggled to win in Detroit Oct. 11, 2009.
With a first down as close to the goal line as possible, the Steelers opted not for the safe and usually effective quarterback sneak in that situation, but instead ran Isaac Redman off the right side. Right guard Trai Essex, getting his first start after missing the previous four games with a sprained ankle, said he blew his assignment on that play, and Redman was blown up for a two-yard loss.
After Mendenhall's run that should have been reviewed, he lost nearly a yard on third down, and Tomlin decided to kick a field goal on fourth down at the one.
Starks said the offense eventually "calmed down" from all the confusion "and we started playing a lot better. It was just too little, too late in a lot of instances, especially down at the goal line early on. That was likely a difference-maker as well."
The Saints' defense did a good impersonation of a Dick LeBeau-led Steelers unit, with their well-regarded coordinator Greg Williams adding to the confusion. Even though the Saints were without their starting two cornerbacks and lost rookie No. 3 corner Patrick Robinson for awhile, the Steelers were unable to take advantage, especially not by throwing anything deep. And they could do little against the blitzes Williams sent against them.
Chris Kemoeatu seemed to misidentify one Saints "game" on the line, missed a block and Ben Roethlisberger paid for it with one of three sacks. Rookie Emmanuel Sanders did not recognize a "hot" on a blitz and, as a result, got in the way of a pass that Roethlisberger intended for Hines Ward, and it fell incomplete. That occurred when Tomlin, his team trailing by just three in the third quarter, decided to go for it on fourth-and-four at the New Orleans 40.
"They did a lot of different schemes," Ward explained. "They were getting pressure on Ben, we were trying to figure out what they were trying to do to us, made us hurry up a couple throws. They had a great scheme. "I think we adjusted in the second half, came out and moved the ball better than we did in the first half. But we knew it was going to be tough -- the defending world champs, Halloween night -- I saw so many costumes in the stands -- and they lost to Cleveland last week."
Linebacker Thaddeus Gibson was awarded to the San Francisco 49ers on a waiver claim Monday after the Steelers released their fourth-round pick Saturday. Both the 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles put in claims for Gibson, who was awarded to San Francisco based on a worse won-loss record this season. The Steelers released Gibson to make room for defensive lineman Steve McLendon, signed from their practice squad.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org.