It wasn't easy but the New Orleans Saints earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 31-28 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans won on a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to Michael Thomas with 1:25 to play. To further the drama, the play initially wasn't called a touchdown but the replay booth reversed it to the approving roar of the 73,086 in attendance. Pittsburgh moved into scoring position but with 32 seconds to play defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins forced JuJu Smith-Schuster to fumble the ball with New Orleans recovering, sealing the victory, the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs
The Saints (13-2) can rest some starters in the season finale vs. the Carolina Panthers (6-9) at the Superdome next Sunday and begin their preparations for the playoffs.
The Saints had control in the first half but the Steelers – behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown – had taken a 28-24 lead into the fourth quarter. But a fake punt attempt by the Steelers (8-6-1) with 4:06 to play was stopped just short giving the Saints the ball at the Steelers' 46-yard line.
From there the Saints converted a crucial fourth-and-two on a defensive pass interference call on Joe Haden and scored the game-winning points on the pass from Brees to Thomas, who had another outstanding performance with 11 catches for 109 yards and the touchdown.
Brees was 27 of 39 for 326 yards with one touchdown.
The game marked the return of two key members of the Saints offense, left tackle Terron Armstead and receiver Ted Ginn. Jr. Ginn caught five passes for 74 yards – including a 25-yard reception on the game-winning drive - but Armstead was forced to leave the game with an injury.
The Saints led 17-14 at halftime and had kept check Brown in check. But he caught fire in the second half and finished with 14 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Mark Ingram had the 50th rushing touchdown of his Saints career, a franchise record, in the first quarter but didn't get many touches in the second half. Kicker Wil Lutz made his 26th consecutive field goal, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer Morten Andersen for most in franchise history, but had a 50-yard attempt blocked with 6:13 to play in the fourth quarter.
Key Saints stat leaders
Drew Brees, 27 of 39 for 326 yards with one touchdown
Mark Ingram, 11 carries for 35 yards and one TD
Alvin Kamara, seven carries for 23 yards and two TDs
Michael Thomas, 11 catches for 109 yards and one TD