No sight better summed up the kind of game it had been for the defensive backs Sunday than a groggy Tyrone Carter making his way to the Steelers sideline near the end of it.
Like Carter, the secondary wobbled but, ultimately, made plays when the Steelers had to have them in a 38-31 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Carter forced a fumble that free safety Ryan Clark recovered at the Steelers' 25-yard line with less than a minute to play.
His hit on Saints wide receiver Terrance Copper preserved the victory that snapped a three-game losing streak, but it may have raised as many questions as it answered.
Foremost among those is the state of the secondary.
Physically, it was battered and was all but held together by duct tape in the second half Sunday.
Strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Deshea Townsend left the game in the first half with concussions. Their status for this Sunday's game at Cleveland figures to be addressed today when Steelers coach Bill Cowher holds his weekly news conference.
If the health of the defensive backs isn't enough of a concern, the Steelers looked as vulnerable against the pass as they have all season.
And that is saying something, considering the Steelers have allowed two different quarterbacks to throw four touchdown passes in a game. And they gave up three touchdowns to Jake Plummer, the lowest-rated passer in the AFC, in a recent loss to the Denver Broncos.
The Saints were without wide receiver Joe Horn, but the loss of the four-time Pro Bowler didn't slow down their passing attack.
Drew Brees, who leads the NFL in passing yards, lit up the Steelers. The secondary, particularly cornerback Ike Taylor, also had no answer for rookie sensation Marques Colston, who finished with 10 catches for 169 yards.
Not that the defensive backs were solely to blame for the 398 passing yards surrendered
The Steelers didn't generate a consistent pass rush, and when they did get to Brees, he usually was able to get away and step up in the pocket.
It also didn't help that Carter and seldom-used rookies Anthony Smith and Anthony Madison played most of the second half because of injuries and the frequency with which the Saints threw the ball.
"Out of everybody, I played the worst," said Clark, who recovered two fumbles and had six tackles. "I think the young guys came in, stepped up and played well."