PITTSBURGH – Everything seemed to be going all wrong again for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They lost two key defensive starters, then a 14-point lead.

For a change, they didn’t lose this game.

Willie Parker broke free on runs of 72 and 76 yards to set up his own two short scoring runs in the second half, Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes and the Steelers rallied after giving away a big lead to beat the New Orleans Saints 38-31 on Sunday.

Parker, who complained after a 31-20 loss to Denver last week that some teammates weren’t as hungry or as focused as they were in winning the Super Bowl last season, couldn’t be faulted for his effort. He had 213 yards on 22 carries, with scoring runs of 3 and 4 yards in the second half. He finished 5 yards short of the team record 218 yards rushing by John “Frenchy” Fuqua against Philadelphia in 1970.

The Saints (6-3) had rallied to lead 17-14 on first-round draft pick Reggie Bush’s 15-yard touchdown run on a double reverse, with Bush tumbling over safety Ryan Clark to reach the end zone. They led again 24-17 on Deuce McAllister’s 4-yard run during a 72-yard drive that Brees needed only one minute to execute late in the first half.

Brees was 31-of-47 for 399 yards, with rookie Marques Colston making 10 catches for 169 yards, but the Saints turned over the ball three times to Pittsburgh’s none. The Steelers went into the day with an NFL-leading 24 turnovers.

The Steelers (3-6) played most of the final three quarters without two starting defensive backs, All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Deshea Townsend, with concussions. The injuries forced coach Bill Cowher to go far down the bench for backups, especially with the Steelers frequently using five defensive backs to counter Brees’ throwing.

After both kickers, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed and New Orleans’ John Carney, missed field goals from inside the 40 in the third quarter, Roethlisberger found Cedrick Wilson on a 38-yard touchdown pass. Two Saints defenders collided to leave Wilson open. Roethlisberger was 17-of-28 for 264 yards and no interceptions after throwing an NFL-leading 14 in his first seven starts.

Then, after turning the ball over 10 times in their previous two games, the Steelers started putting the ball into Parker’s hands. He had 187 of his 213 yards in the second half.

The Steelers had rushed for only 240 yards while losing consecutive games to Atlanta, Oakland and Denver, but Porter threatened to get that much yardage by himself. It was his first game with more than 100 yards in four weeks despite being limited to 26 yards on 10 carries in the first half.

New Orleans got close again at 38-31 on McAllister’s second 4-yard touchdown run of the game midway through the fourth period. But its last chance of tying or winning ended when Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark recovered Terrance Copper’s fumble at the Steelers 20 following a 25-yard pass play in the final minute.

A week after falling behind Denver 14-0 in the opening four minutes and never catching up, the Steelers jumped to a 14-0 lead on Roethlisberger’s touchdown passes of 37 yards to Hines Ward and 2 yards to Heath Miller. Tight end Billy Miller’s fumble at the Saints 32 was recovered by Brett Keisel and led to Heath Miller’s touchdown.

Despite winning for only the second time since Sept. 7, the Steelers stayed four games behind AFC North leader Baltimore (7-2) with seven games to play when the Ravens rallied to beat Tennessee 27-26 after trailing 26-7.

AP-ES-11-12-06 1952EST


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