Steelers 20, Saints 7
CANTON, Ohio (AP)—Mike Tomlin got to meet “Prime Time” in prime time.
“The only thing that was really different was talking to Deion (Sanders) just before kickoff,” Tomlin said after the Hall of Fame game. “I had never given an interview just before kickoff. That was the only thing that was new and exciting.”
Well, not really. Less than three minutes into the game, the Steelers were ahead to stay under the man replacing the retired Bill Cowher. Just the third head coach in the past 38 years in Pittsburgh, Tomlin had to be thrilled about his team’s quick getaway.
“We had a good first step,” the no-nonsense Tomlin said. “We did some good things, got some big plays, some chunks (of yardage).
“I took myself out of it. I tried to create an environment for the coaches and players to do their jobs. You do that, you get involved in the process.”
Ben Roethlisberger was sharp in his only series, completing two of his three throws for 73 yards to Cedrick Wilson. On a 55-yard play, Wilson got behind safety Kevin Kaesviharn, then he beat New Orleans’ top cornerback, Mike McKenzie, on an 18-yard crossing pattern.
“He came up to me at practice,” Wilson said of Roethlisberger, “and told me he was going to be looking for me. I appreciate that and can be thankful for that. I just want to go out and make plays for him and make sure he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Pittsburgh’s first-stringers were, by far, more efficient than New Orleans’ starters, who missed blocks and dropped passes on offense and couldn’t handle Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch when they threw. And that was just in the first quarter.
In the first half, Pittsburgh outgained New Orleans 305-56, including 205-32 in the air. Overall, it was 413-214.
“This is how we want to play all season,” linebacker Larry Foote said of stymieing the Saints, who didn’t use starting running back Deuce McAllister and gave Reggie Bush only two carries for 8 yards. “We want to be dominating this year.”
The Steelers kept making big plays, particularly on passes in a more wide-open offense designed by new coordinator Bruce Arians. They made the Saints look inept in coverage at times, an unfortunate carry-over from last season for New Orleans, which allowed 16 plays of more than 40 yards in 2006—a league high.
“I can’t spin it any way but the way we played,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We were sloppy, sluggish. I thought they were more physical than us. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Along with Wilson’s big gainer on the game’s second play were a 38-yard screen pass to Carey Davis and a 41-yard completion from Brian St. Pierre to Santonio Holmes. St. Pierre hit Holmes on a 3-yard fade for a 14-0 edge.
That grew to 17-0 on Jeff Reed’s 28-yard field goal set up by Davis’ 58-yard run.
“In the first preseason game, you are finally getting a chance to go against someone else, and see where you have progressed,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said after going 1-for-6 for 6 yards. “Obviously, we still have some work to do.”
But the Saints’ third-stringers staged a 16-play, 72-yard drive capped by a fourth-down, 1-yard TD pass from Jason Fife to Kevin Dudley to open the second half. Pittsburgh’s subs answered with a 13-play, 44-yard march to Reed’s 39-yard field goal, taking up the remainder of the third period.
On hand were five of the six men inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday: Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Matthews, Roger Wehrli and Charlie Sanders. The ailing Gene Hickerson was not in attendance.
Saints center Jeff Faine strained a calf and left in the second quarter … The crowd of 22,302 was decidedly filled with Steelers fans, most of them waving Terrible Towels … Saints first-round draft pick Robert Meachem, a wideout from Tennessee, was laid out by a superb hit by rookie cornerback William Gay in the fourth quarter. Gay later picked off a pass.