When he left the field late in the third quarter, his left arm tucked tight to his body and in obvious discomfort, the Steelers apparently feared the worst for Brett Keisel.
And in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's 35-32 loss to New Orleans, the Steelers sensed their initial suspicions had been confirmed, that they would have to forge on without the veteran defensive end.
"In truth I'm not sure, but it didn't seem very good," strong safety Troy Polamalu said.
Added free safety Mike Mitchell: "The injury didn't look good."
Keisel departed after the Saints had snapped the ball with 3:14 remaining in the third quarter on what became a Mark Ingram carry for no gain.
By the time the quarter had expired Keisel had his left arm wrapped and an announcement had been made in the press box at Heinz Field characterizing him as doubtful (triceps) to return. Keisel was eventually downgraded to out.
In between the third and fourth quarters, Mitchell approached Keisel on the sideline and gave him a hug.
"I know what he's meant to me in just the short time I've been here," Mitchell said. "The dude's really a leader, he's a warrior. And for him to be as old as he is and play the way he does, man, you gotta have a lot of respect for him. He is the definition of what a Steeler is, him and (linebacker) James (Harrison) and Troy, guys like them. It hurt me to see him go down.
"When your leader goes down, that's not a good thing. We want to play as hard as we can for him. He's a leader and part of the soul of our team. It almost makes you want to cry when you lose a guy like that because he's so instrumental to who we are and what we try to do here. It's going to be a tough loss, but we have to rally around everyone else who is healthy and everyone has to pick it up. Big shoes to fill."
Mitchell wasn't the only player referencing Keisel's availability to the Steelers for the rest of the season in the past tense.
"For me personally when I saw that, of course I'm really disappointed," Polamalu said. "I've seen it happen with Aaron (Smith). There are very few guys here left in the locker room that you experienced a lot with, the ups and downs, and you know you can carry through with them. Definitely going to miss Brett and his leadership."
Cornerback William Gay called Keisel "a guy you can look up to, a guy you know is going to fight to the end.
"He gave it everything he had," Gay added. "It's a tough, tough loss. We have to keep fighting and fighting for him."
THEY COULDN'T KEEP UP
The Saints did what they do on offense, as far as former New Orleans wide receiver Lance Moore could tell. And the Steelers didn't do enough on offense, Moore maintained.
"They're a tough offense, and they have really good players over there," he said. "When they don't turn it over they're generally going to win. We turned it over, they didn't. Any time you play a team with an offense like that you can't kick field goals and you can't turn the ball over. Any time you do that it's going to be tough."
The Steelers finished with 538 total net yards. But they had just a pair of field goals to show for a first half during which they possessed the ball for 16:49 and gained 197 yards.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 8-for-22 for 115 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 35.2 in the first two quarters.
Late in the first quarter Roethlisberger jogged toward the Steelers sideline and had backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski toss him and ball that Roethlisberger could throw back to Gradkowski between snaps. Roethlisberger emerged from that little exercise shaking his right hand but maintained after the game his bouts with inaccuracy weren't injury related.
"As the game progresses you're always going to take shots," Roethlisberger said. "It didn't affect the way I played the game."
FIRST THINGS FIRST
New Orleans amassed 393 total net yards and struck for a number of big plays, most memorable among them the 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to wide receiver Kenny Stills that gave the Saints a 28-13 third-quarter lead.
But it was the little plays that added up big, the 143 rushing yards the Saints produced and the 5.5 average per carry the Saints achieved that really frustrated the Steelers.
"Our game plan is always to stop the run first," Polamalu said "And as you can see when we don't do that the floodgates open. That's always been our No. 1 agenda since I've been here."
Added defensive end Cam Heyward, "They got some runs on us and then set up the play-action (passes)."
The Steelers surrendered over 100 yards rushing for the sixth time in 12 games and fell to 2-4 in those games.
THEY SAID IT
"In hindsight, I don't know if we believed then. It just happened moment by moment. If we get too farsighted it's not going to happen for us." – Polamalu on whether the 2014 Steelers might have a finishing kick in them similar to the four-game winning streak that ended the 2005 regular season.
"I understand it's not about me, but deep down I really wanted to win." – Moore on playing against his former team.
"Everybody, top to bottom, we got to stop doing this. We're shooting ourselves in the foot. We have too many good guys, too many good players to not win these games." – Heyward on the Steelers' inconsistency.
"We are where we are, and we're going to keep fighting. The big thing for us is to stay together, and I don't see that being an issue at all." – Roethlisberger.