After weeks giving up turnovers, Steelers use three fumble recoveries to pick up a win

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For good measure, there were still the obligatory near-misses. Like, Larry Foote dropping an easy interception that would have prevented the first touchdown. Or Brett Keisel, an athletic and nimble defensive end, falling on a Drew Brees fumble at the Steelers' 14 and watching it roll helplessly from his grasp.

Those were the types of plays the Steelers had to endure in their 2-6 start -- the almost interception, the almost fumble recovery -- plays that tormented them long past the conclusion of another defeat.

"I'm still kicking myself over that one," Foote said, dressed in street clothes and heading for the door of the locker room.

This time, though, the regret shouldn't last long. For a change, the fumbling, bumbling Steelers finally created more takeaways than they missed.

After recovering just one fumble in their first eight games, they recovered three yesterday against the New Orleans Saints, including one with 39 seconds remaining. They converted the other two into touchdowns.

On top of all that, the Steelers did so in a game in which they did not have a lost fumble or interception, a first this season for a team that led the National Football League with 24 turnovers.

In a game in which their thriving offense was outgained by the opponent (517 yards to 467), the Steelers finally won a statistic that counted and a game that threatened to slip away -- not once, but twice. In the end, their 38-31 victory against the Saints was as much about finally winning the turnover battle (3-0) as it was Willie Parker's runs of 72 and 76 yards in the second half.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, you win the turnover/takeaway ratio, you win the game," Keisel said.

"We've been having trouble getting the ball for our offense," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who caused the first fumble that led to the second Steelers touchdown. "That's one of the reasons we haven't been winning."

That all changed against the Saints, a team that had lost just one fumble in the previous six games. The Steelers did not manage an interception against Brees, even though they were tied for second in the NFL with 12 interceptions.

But they managed to create four fumbles, three of which they recovered, none any bigger than the one forced by safety Tyrone Carter, playing for injured Troy Polamalu, with 39 seconds remaining.

In their first eight games, the Steelers managed to recover only one fumble, and that was on a sack of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in the third quarter of a 28-20 defeat in Week 3.

"It's amazing," coach Bill Cowher said. "Those things are harder to control than the giveaways you have. You can control [giveaways]. We've been playing hard, hitting people hard. Murphy's Law will eventually take over, but you have to continue to put yourself in those positions. I would be concerned if we weren't putting ourselves in those positions. It was so close and we were finally able to close out a game."

Carter will be credited with just one forced fumble -- when he hit wide receiver Terrance Copper after a 20-yard gain at the Steelers' 25 and safety Ryan Clark recovered.

But he was partially responsible for the second fumble recovery when he tackled rookie Reggie Bush after a 6-yard gain at the Saints' 42. As Carter hit him low, Foote came over and knocked the ball from Bush's grasp with his left hand. Clark recovered that one, too, and the Steelers needed just one play -- a 38-yard touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson -- to tie the game, 24-24, with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter.

"We had to make plays, and my job is to make plays," said Carter, who replaced Polamalu at strong safety in the second quarter. "When you have the opportunity to make plays. Make it. That's what I was doing."

Carter was knocked woozy on the final tackle and had to helped from the field. Afterward, he remembered little after he hit Copper.

His teammates can fill him in.

"Ty came up big," Clark said. "He was cutting people low all day."

It was Farrior who started the takeaway splurge, stripping the ball from tight end Billy Miler on the Saints' second play from scrimmage that Keisel recovered at the New Orleans 32. The Steelers turned that turnover into a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller and a 14-0 lead.

"Fumbles are an easy way to flip the field," Clark said.

"It's a man thing," Foote said.

"You hit the guy hard and take the ball from them. Interceptions are more finesse."

The manly way or the finesse way -- the Steelers love having them again.


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