Drew Brees rediscovered his Super Bowl form in time to make the defending champion New Orleans Saints look like contenders again.
After taking a pounding and throwing an early interception, Brees connected on all but two of 22 passes he attempted in the second half, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns that lifted the Saints to a 20-10 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night.
"We knew what a big game this was," said Brees, who threw for 191 yards in the second half to finish with 305 yards spread among nine receivers.
"There was no better way to get back on track than to beat these guys. I felt like we played as complete a game as we've played all year, especially in the second half."
Brees' first TD went to Marques Colston for 16 yards and the second went for 8 yards to Lance Moore with 2:37 left, breaking open a defensive struggle in which neither team scored a touchdown through three quarters.
Leigh Torrence then intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to seal it for the Saints (5-3), who were coming off an embarrassing 30-17 loss at home last week to the scuffling Cleveland Browns.
"We have a special group," Brees said. "I think we all knew that from the start. We just had to come out and prove it. It's a long season. ... You're going to have your ups and downs."
Rashard Mendenhall had the only touchdown for Pittsburgh (5-2) on a 38-yard run in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger was 17 of 28 for 195 yards.
"This is definitely a gut check for us," Roethlisberger said. "We got knocked down a little bit tonight and now it will be interesting to see how we bounce back."
A packed Halloween night crowd howled throughout much of the matchup of the past two Super Bowl champs, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the Saints' defense seemed to thrive off of the noise.
"It was a hostile environment for us. The fans were into it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We struggled a little bit on possession downs because of it, but that's no excuse. ... We knew this was going to be a tough place to play coming into it. I was hopeful that we would perform better than we did."
The Saints came in ranked third in total defense and lived up to it, forcing two turnovers and stopping the Steelers on a goal-line stand in the first half after coach Sean Payton challenged what was initially ruled a TD catch by Antwaan Randle El.
"We knew it was going to be a boxing match, a slugfest," said safety Darren Sharper, wearing a boxing robe which said "World Champs" on the hood. "We knew the most physical team was going to win this game, and we felt we were the most physical team out there."
The Saints struggled to run against a Steelers defense that came in ranked first in the NFL against the run and allowed New Orleans only 30 yards on the ground.
Brees was sacked twice and intercepted once, giving him 11 interceptions and matching his total from last season.
The Saints tried some trickery, to no avail. In the third quarter, right tackle Zach Strief, who had reported as an eligible receiver, was wide open in the end zone, but was backpedaling and unable to reach high enough to snag a short pass Brees lobbed over his head. New Orleans had to settle for a field goal to go up 6-3.
The Saints went ahead 13-3 when Colston hauled in his touchdown, running the last few yards and reaching to get the ball over the pylon before he was bumped out of bounds.
Pittsburgh had only one possession in the third quarter, which ended when cornerback Malcolm Jenkins broke up a fourth-and-4 pass from the New Orleans 40.
But after falling behind by 10 early in the fourth, the Steelers went 68 yards in only four plays to make it 13-10, capped by Mendenhall's scoring run.
Suddenly, both offenses were rolling in time for an action-packed finish. When Brees hit Robert Meachem for a 50-yard gain into Steelers territory, it appeared the Saints would quickly extend their lead again.
Then cornerback Bryant McFadden sacked and stripped Brees, and Pittsburgh's Lamarr Woodley recovered on the Steelers 27.
Pittsburgh quickly moved across midfield, only to lose the ball when tight end Heath Miller fumbled on a head-on hit by linebacker Marvin Mitchell. Sharper scooped it up, returning the ball 11 yards to the New Orleans 45.
Brees drove New Orleans right back downfield, finally exposing a Pittsburgh pass defense that came in ranked 24th. He completed all six passes he threw, the last two to Moore - first for a third down conversion, followed by a touchdown on which Moore held on to the ball despite being hit hard by two defenders.
"You just have to hold on to the ball and pray that you come down with it," Moore said. "I got smashed a little bit. I didn't really know where I was when I hit the ground, but I got up - touchdown - I'll take it."
NOTES: An official for Guinness World Records who attended the game counted at least 17,777 fans wearing costumes in the Superdome, making the game the largest recorded Halloween gathering. ... Saints CB Patrick Robinson left the game with a right ankle injury. RB Chris Ivory left in the first half, but the Saints did not disclose his injury. ... The Saints also played without starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter (left knee) and Jabari Greer (left shoulder), while the Steelers played without staring DEs Aaron Smith (triceps) and Brett Keisel (left hamstring).