The clinch that stole Christmas

Story By Phillip Petty III, sophomore at St. Augustine High School. Photos by Christopher Taylor, sophomore at SJBP STEM Magnet High School Program.

Sunday, the (12-2) New Orleans Saints hosted the (8-5-1) Pittsburgh Steelers in what was a crucial game for both teams with the playoffs looming and only one regular season game left to take care of business. With a win, the Steelers would punch their ticket to the postseason. With a loss, they would have to rely on the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts to post L’s as well. Even though the Saints had already clinched their playoff bye week, this game was about playoff seeding. With two games left, the Saints were searching for at least one win to claim the #1 seed and Dome Field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the end of the day, the Saints were the victorious Black and Gold team, rising to the occasion to take a late lead and a 31-28 win.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome is one of the loudest NFL stadiums, second only to the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field. Unphased by the crowd noise, Big Ben and the Steelers marched down the field twice in the 3rd Quarter to ultimately give them a 28-24 lead going into the final quarter. Despite the Saints crowd being their loudest on the last drive and forcing a false start and a 4th and 15, Ben still managed to convert the 4th and long to get a first down and take the Steelers all the way to field goal range. But the Saints crowd was too loud in the final seconds, forcing the Steelers to fumble and ending their chances to win the game.

After the “Battle of the Black and Golds”, both quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees performed excellent. Ben passed for 380 yards and 33 of 50 on pass attempts. Ben’s total QBR was 84.0 at the end of game. Brees passed for 326 yards and went 27 of 39 on passing attempts. Brees posted a 88.4 QBR, and more importantly, the win. Both of quarterbacks did a great job delivering the ball to their star wide receivers. Brees only threw for one touchdown, but that touchdown came up clutch for the Saints with a minute left in the game to give the Saints the lead. Michael Thomas had a phenomenal game with 11 catches for 109 yards. That’s an amazing 9.9 yards per catch average. On the other side for the Steelers, Antonio Brown also had a stupendous game with 14 receptions for 185 yards with a 13.2 yards per catch average.

Taysom Hill gave up the first turnover of the day, throw in a drive stalling INT on the Saints first possession.
With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and all the momentum favoring the Steelers, the Saints forced a fumble to stop another potential scoring drive and looked to retake the lead.
On fourth down, the Steelers decide to fake the punt and run with it but they come up short and gave the ball back to the Saints with great field position. With under 40 seconds left, and the Steelers finding field goal range, Juju Smith-Schuster fumbled the ball, ending the drive and the game.

Two pass interference penalties set up 12 points for the Saints. The first pass interference was against Steeler Joe Haden, a huge call. On 4th and 1 the Saints decided to go for it instead of kicking the long field goal and Brees had no wide receivers open, so he just threw up a 50/50 ball to Kamara. Kamara was pushed and got the penalty. The other was on Terrell Edmunds when he held Benjamin Watson, which gave the Saints a first down and more momentum. The last pass interference call was against the Saints’ Eli Apple prior to holding Antonio Brown which was huge for the Steelers because it was third and long and it gave them a first down.

On 4th and 15 with less than 1:00 left on the clock, and with no Steelers timeouts remaining, Roethlisberger completed a first down earning critical sideline pass, confirmed as a catch after replay, keeping the Steelers’ drive alive.

This Sunday, the (13-2) Saints host the Carolina Panthers (6-9) at home, and the Saints can rest their starters and do no harm to their playoff seeding for the final game of the regular season for the Saints. This will not be their last home game of the season due to winning this game against the Steelers (31-28); they’ve clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Most likely Sean Payton will rest their starters so there won’t be a risk of injury. That means we will get to see Teddy Bridgewater start for the first time in 2 years. But who knows if this will be Drew Brees’ last regular game as a Saint.