Watt’s return fuels Steelers to 20-10 win over shaky Saints

Nov 12, 2022, 11:50 PM | Updated: Nov 13, 2022, 3:08 pm
New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) gets off a pass under pressure by Pittsburgh Steele...

New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) gets off a pass under pressure by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) with offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) blocking during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

              New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) gets off a pass under pressure by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) with offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) blocking during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers Damontae Kazee intercepts a pass intended for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Jarvis Landry (5) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. The Steelers won 20-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) hands his gloves to a fan following an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) encourages fans to make noise during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates sacking New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) scrambles past New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) for a first down during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) celebrates after scoring on a quarterback sneak during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) celebrates after scoring on a one-yard quarterback sneak during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — T.J. Watt felt the familiar and still indescribable jolt the moment he emerged from the tunnel.

Two months spent standing on the sideline while his torn left pectoral muscle healed deprived the Pittsburgh star linebacker of the lifeblood that sustains him and the Steelers of a player that can change the arcs of games, if not entire seasons.

No wonder Watt took a second on Sunday to bask in a moment that seemed far away during his lengthy rehab, one that not coincidentally was in lockstep with his team’s worst start in eight years.

“You wish you could freeze time for just one second,” Watt said.

That may be beyond Watt’s control. Something far more attainable is the formula the Steelers rediscovered against New Orleans, one they hope could serve as the foundation of a second-half push.

Kenny Pickett and George Pickens ran for 1-yard touchdowns and Pittsburgh’s rejuvenated defense — the one with Watt’s No. 90 once again a blur coming off the edge — shut down the Saints late in a 20-10 victory that provided fuel to Watt’s belief there is still time for the Steelers to make something out of 2022.

“I’m here to make plays and help make a difference in the game,” said Watt, who had four tackles and a quarterback hit. “That’s what I’m going to continue to try and do.”

Any path Pittsburgh (3-6) navigates to be a factor down the stretch surely relies on Watt’s presence. The Steelers’ win over New Orleans (3-7) looked a bit like their Week 1 upset in Cincinnati, when the defense produced sacks and turnovers with startling regularity.

Then Watt went down and things quickly went sideways. Pittsburgh’s performance against the sputtering Saints felt like a welcome return to normalcy.

“(TJ) is still that guy,” said outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, whose two sacks boosted his season total to 8 1/2. “It was exciting to have him back. We know what type of defense we can be (with him). We just need to build on it.”

It wasn’t just the defense that rediscovered its identity. Pittsburgh ran for a season-best 217 yards — including 99 by Najee Harris and 51 by Pickett — and didn’t turn it over for the third time this season. The Steelers are 3-0 in those games.

Pickett completed 18 of 30 passes for 199 yards without an interception. He also shook off a tweaked left ankle to convert a couple of late quarterback sneaks, including a 1-yard dive with 8:40 to play that gave the Steelers a 10-point lead the defense made sure was more than enough.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Pickett said. “It’s not where we need to be or where we want to be but it’s a good start.”

The Saints, hoping to stay in the mix in the underwhelming NFC South, instead dropped their second straight.

Andy Dalton connected on 17 of 27 for 174 yards with a touchdown and two late picks. The first, a deflection snared by recently activated Steelers safety Damontae Kazee, set up Pickett’s touchdown run. The second — which came one series after Dalton was stuffed on a botched fourth-down quarterback sneak — allowed the Steelers to seal it.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays,” said Dalton, who fell to 3-14 in his career against Pittsburgh. “That’s what it came down to. We weren’t able to sustain drives and that led to us not scoring enough points.”

The Saints largely beat themselves. Though the defense sacked Pickett six times, it also committed six penalties that gave the Steelers a first down, including a pass interference call against Paulson Adebo in the end zone that set up Pickett’s score. New Orleans was flagged 10 times for 74 yards in all.

“There’s just a lot of different areas that we’ve got to improve on,” said Saints coach Dennis Allen, who declined to answer when asked if he was considering going back to Jameis Winston at quarterback.

New Orleans’ miscues and a revived Pittsburgh running game allowed the Steelers to hold the ball for nearly 39 minutes and keep their defense fresh.

While Watt admitted his legs felt like “wet noodles” at one point, he hardly looked rusty. Neither did a defense that looked formidable even without safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Saturday.

Kazee, making his first start with the Steelers, filled in and effectively turned the game for good with his 13th career interception.

It was the kind of momentum-shifting play that largely went missing during Watt’s absence. Now Watt is back, his unique energy inspiring his teammates along the way.

“TJ’s a different animal,” Kazee said. “He started pumping the crowd up and everybody is screaming and I’m like ‘Oh, you gave me chills on the field.'”

INJURIES

Saints: Lost LT James Hurst to a concussion.

Steelers: LB Myles Jack, Pittsburgh’s leading tackler, suited up but did not play due to a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Saints: Host the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday.

Steelers: Welcome Cincinnati next Sunday.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Duke head coach Kara Lawson shouts to her team during the second half of an NCAA college bas...
Associated Press

Duke tops trio of ranked women’s teams in North Carolina

Duke’s Kara Lawson and North Carolina’s Courtney Banghart have spent their short tenures building programs back to national relevance. North Carolina State’s Wes Moore is leading the three-time reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion. All of them are in the same area code. This always-competitive market looks tougher than usual with the Blue Devils’ rising to […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2020, file photo, the Olympic rings are reinstalled after it was taken down ...
Associated Press

Probe into US Olympic failings stunted by red tape in DC

DENVER (AP) — More than 27 months since it was greenlighted by Congress, the panel established to investigate the inner workings of the U.S. Olympic structure has yet to conduct a formal interview because of bureaucratic red tape and slow action from the same lawmakers who had expressed a pressing need for better oversight. Two […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic gestures on the court in the second half of an NBA basketball ga...
Associated Press

Who has next for James’ scoring record: Luka? Tatum? Anyone?

James Harden averaged 36 points a few seasons ago. Devin Booker once scored 70 in one game. There are many more players doing much more scoring now than when LeBron James began his NBA career in 2003-04. Tracy McGrady led the league with 28 points per game that season, a mark that nine players would […]
1 day ago
United States' Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates taking second place in an alpine ski, women's World Cham...
Associated Press

Shiffrin’s silver at ski worlds inspired by LeBron’s record

MERIBEL, France (AP) — Amid a whirlwind 48 hours high in the French Alps, Mikaela Shiffrin woke up to the news that LeBron James had broken the NBA scoring record and the American skier immediately drew comparisons to her own record-breaking season. Inspired by James’ accomplishment, Shiffrin went out a few hours later and put […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, scores to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA...
Associated Press

Analysis: LeBron has defied odds, with no drop-off in sight

LeBron James is 38 years old. He is in Season 20 of his NBA career. He is, by conventional basketball-playing standards, ancient. History says his decline should have started already. Except it hasn’t. Not even close. And count that as just another example of what sets James apart from so many other greats, so many […]
1 day ago
Elina Svitolina talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Svitolina calls for Russians to be banned from Olympics

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian tennis player and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina pushed for a total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Paris Games in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. Svitolina, who won her bronze medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, is visiting Ukraine for […]
1 day ago
Watt’s return fuels Steelers to 20-10 win over shaky Saints