December 24, 2018 / 1:27 AM / a month ago

Saints stun Steelers, clinch top seed in NFC playoffs

EditorsNote: 14th graf, should be Pittsburgh 16, not Pittsburgh 14

Taking advantage of a special teams stop on a fake punt, Drew Brees threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas with 1:25 left to lift the host New Orleans Saints to a 31-28 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Pittsburgh (8-6-1) led 28-24 with little more than four minutes left when it faced a fourth-and-5 from its own 42. Fullback Roosevelt Nix took the snap and ran up the middle, but linebacker Craig Robertson stopped him a yard short of the first down at the Steelers’ 46.

Given the short field, Brees drove the Saints 46 yards in 10 plays for the decisive score.

The Steelers had one more shot, moving into Saints territory with 41 seconds left. But after catching a pass from Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lost the ball on a tackle by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, and the Saints recovered to clinch the victory.

The Saints (13-2) clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs by virtue of their regular-season win over the Los Angeles Rams (12-3) in November. The Steelers dropped into second place in the AFC North behind the Baltimore Ravens (9-6).

Brees finished 27 of 39 for 326 yards and the one touchdown.

Roethlisberger completed 33 of 50 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Antonio Brown led all receivers with 14 catches for 185 yards and two scores, and Smith-Schuster had 11 receptions for 115 yards.

After falling behind 24-14 early in the second half on Alvin Kamara’s 1-yard run, the Steelers regained the lead with back-to-back touchdown drives.

Roethlisberger finished off a 75-yard drive with a 3-yard flip to Brown, cutting the deficit to 24-21, and then he found Brown on a 20-yard seam route to climax a 66-yard drive to give the Steelers a 28-24 lead with 1:02 left in the third.

Pittsburgh appeared headed to another score early in the fourth quarter, but running back Stevan Ridley fumbled on third-and-2 at the New Orleans 35 and defensive end Alex Okafor recovered for the Saints.

The Saints drove into Pittsburgh territory, but a holding call wiped out a catch by Thomas inside the 15, and Wil Lutz’s 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by L.J. Fort. It was Lutz’s first miss after 25 consecutive made field goals.

Three pass interference penalties — two that went in the Saints’ favor and the other that benefitted the Steelers — played a large role in the first half, which ended with New Orleans taking a 17-14 lead on Lutz’s 43-yard field goal with two seconds left.

After the Steelers took a 3-0 lead on Chris Boswell’s 49-yard field goal, the Saints responded with a 75-yard, six-play drive to take a 7-3 lead on Mark Ingram’s 1-yard dive off left guard. Ingram’s score was set up by a 33-yard interference call against cornerback Joe Haden, who jostled with Kamara in the end zone.

The Steelers cut the deficit to 7-6 on Boswell’s 30-yard field goal, but the Saints made it 14-3 on their next possession, using a 22-yard pass interference call against safety Morgan Burnett to set up a first down at the Pittsburgh 16. On third-and-2 from the 8, Kamara took a handoff from backup quarterback Taysom Hill and waltzed into the end zone.

The Steelers later drove 97 yards to tie the game, with Roethlisberger throwing a 3-yard pass on third-and-goal to a wide-open Jaylen Samuels and then converting the two-point conversion with another wide-open toss to Eli Rogers.

—Field Level Media

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