The Saints turned two of Pittsburgh's four fourth-quarter turnovers into scores and mounted two goal-line stands in the closing minutes to beat the Steelers, 20-16, and guarantee their first-ever winning season.
The Saints (8-3) are in line for their first-ever playoff appearance.
"This is the most incredible win we've ever had," Saint linebacker Pat Swilling said. "We were on the ropes the whole time, yet we won. There was just a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter for us to never let them score."
The Saints--winning their fifth in a row, four of the victories coming on the road--trailed, 14-3, at halftime, but rallied for a 20-14 lead when their defense forced last-quarter turnovers that led to Bobby Hebert's 19-yard touchdown pass to Eric Martin and Morten Andersen's 32-yard field goal.
Martin's touchdown with 8:16 left followed Dave Waymer's recovery of Rod Woodson's fumbled punt and put the Saints in the lead for good, 17-14. Andersen's second field goal of the game came after Milton Mack intercepted a pass by Mark Malone on Pittsburgh's next possession.
It was hardly over.
Malone teamed with Calvin Sweeney for completions of 34, 7 and 11 yards for a first down at the Saints' four, but the Steelers (6-5) managed only 3 yards on the next 3 plays. Then on fourth-and-goal at the one, linebacker Sam Mills slammed into fullback Frank Pollard just in front of the goal line.
"We knew exactly what play they were going to run," linebacker Rickey Jackson said. "We'd seen it on film, they ran the same play a couple of weeks ago. I called it in the huddle."
The Saints' Brian Hansen then ran out of the end zone for a safety rather than risk having a punt blocked with 1:05 to play. Malone marched the Steelers down the field again to a first down at the Saints' three in the final minute.
But Joe Kohlbrand pulled Malone down for a seven-yard loss on first down, and Waymer intercepted Malone's pass on the final play of the game "to take the monkey off our backs," Saint Coach Jim Mora said.
"By achieving this, people can no longer say, 'The Saints are the only NFL team to never have a winning season,' " Mora said. "It was a monkey that had become a gorilla. And this win says a lot about us."
New Orleans is assured of an 8-7 record even if it loses its remaining four games. The Saints have never had a record better than 8-8 since they joined the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1966.
The Saints' defense blocked its sixth kick of the year when Johnnie Poe tipped Harry Newsome's punt, setting up Andersen's 25-yard field goal with 2:42 left in the first quarter.
Dwayne Woodruff's 32-yard interception return, the sixth touchdown scored by Pittsburgh's defense this season, gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Pittsburgh made it 14-3 on Walter Abercrombie's five-yard touchdown run just 46 seconds before halftime following Mike Merriweather's recovery of Rueben Mayes' fumble.
The only score that the defense didn't figure in came after the Saints took the second-half kickoff and drove 86 yards in 13 plays, with Mayes scoring from the five. The touchdown brought the Saints to within 14-10.
Mayes, who finished with 73 yards in 22 carries, accounted for 23 yards in 5 carries during the drive. Also during the drive, Hebert passed to Hoby Brenner for 20 yards and to Mike Jones for 16.
The Saints forced three Steeler fumbles and harassed Malone into completing only 16 of 31 passes with 3 interceptions, and the Steelers managed only 3 yards in 6 plays from inside the Saints' four-yard line.
New Orleans also limited Pittsburgh's usually effective ground game to 112 yards. But the Saints, the NFL's second-ranked running attack, managed only 114 rushing yards in 38 carries even though Hebert completed 14 of 23 passes for 154 yards and an interception.
Sweeney, a former USC star who is replacing the injured Louis Lipps, had 5 receptions for 77 yards.