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Pickett hurt as Cardinals roll Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, right, is stopped just short of the endzone by Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker, Cardinals linebacker Josh Woods, left, and Cardinals defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter during the first half of Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. AP Photo

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Forced to endure an unexpected “second halftime” after the skies opened up around Acrisure Stadium in the third quarter on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals retreated to the locker room and tried to stay loose.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers were trying to figure out how to erase a surprising 14-point deficit against one of the NFL’s worst teams, the Cardinals took a different approach.

They held a dance-off.

Fitting on a day when Kyler Murray, James Conner and company made all the right moves in an emphatic 24-10 victory over the listless Steelers, who lost starting quarterback Kenny Pickett to an ankle injury.

Conner ran for 105 yards and two scores against his former team and Murray improved to 2-2 since returning from a torn ACL in his right knee as the Cardinals (3-10) won at Pittsburgh for the first time since 1969.

A pair of weather delays — one for 30 minutes at halftime and another that lasted 53 minutes shortly after Conner’s 1-yard touchdown dive — failed to blunt Arizona’s momentum.

“We don’t let our record define us,” said Conner, who starred at the University of Pittsburgh and then spent four seasons with the Steelers from 2017-20 before signing with the Cardinals. “We don’t let (our record) affect how we play, how we take the field, what we try to stand for. … We’re just going to keep fighting.”

That fight was on display late in the first half during a 15-play, 99-yard drive immediately following a goal-line stand that included five third down conversions and ended with a 5-yard dart from Murray to tight end Trey McBride.

The Steelers (7-5) never recovered. All the progress shown by the offense a week earlier in a win over Cincinnati disappeared, and for once the defense couldn’t come up with the game-changing plays that have become the unit’s trademark.

Pittsburgh failed to produce a turnover and let all three Arizona drives that reached the red zone end with a touchdown.

Pickett was hurt late in the first half and wore a boot on his right foot while watching backup Mitch Trubisky, who struggled to do much of anything as the Steelers let a chance to strengthen their position in the AFC playoff race slip away.

“We got our (butts) kicked,” Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “I don’t know if it got away from us. We got pummeled today.”

While Pittsburgh remains firmly in the chase for a wild-card spot, there is no postseason in the offing for rebuilding Arizona.

Still, the Cardinals showed signs of progress under first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon. Murray completed 13 of 23 passes for 145 yards and had 20 yards rushing. Arizona’s defense bounced back from a nightmarish showing against the Rams a week ago in which it was lit up for 37 points and 452 yards.

Gannon pointed to the buy-in from his players, even amid a season in which little has gone right, as proof things may be heading in the right direction.

“They believe in each other,” Gannon said. “That’s what we talked about (all week). ‘Look to your left. Look to your right. Don’t let your teammate down.’ And it showed up all week and that’s why we gave ourselves a chance to win tonight.”

TURNING POINT

Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to take control in the second quarter when it drove deep into Arizona territory. Pickett was tackled just short of the goal line while scrambling on third down, and Cardinals defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter fell on Pickett’s legs.

Pickett tried to get up only to kneel on the turf. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and replaced by Trubisky. The Steelers opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but Najee Harris was stuffed for no gain and the Cardinals responded by going the length of the field — most of it in a driving rain.

“It’s kind of demoralizing (to the other team) in a sense,” Murray said. “To go 99 yards and put it in the end zone is tough, especially when we got a goal-line stop.”

HAPPY HOMECOMING

Conner grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and spent four years at Pitt, where he set records and also endured a bout with cancer that failed to derail his career.

There were about 20 friends and relatives in the stands to watch him play the team he entered the league with. Conner had his second 100-yard game of the season and was awarded the game ball by Gannon.

“Truly special,” Conner said. “Obviously, the emotions were going when I took the field. … This is all God. I had this vision of just coming home and trying to play my best football and let God do the rest and let us have a day.”

INJURIES

Steelers: Roberts left in the second quarter with a groin injury and briefly returned before leaving for good. … LG Isaac Seumalo left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Off next week before hosting NFC West-leading San Francisco on Dec. 17.

Steelers: Host New England (2-10) on Thursday night.

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