NEW ORLEANS – What a game. In a game featuring two NFL heavyweights , the New Orleans Saints edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-28 on Sunday.
The Saints needed a Drew Brees-to-Michael Thomas touchdown with 1:25 left to secure the lead. Then, Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins forced a fumble from Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with 29 seconds left to kill a potential game-winning or tying drive.
Pittsburgh also had another big blunder when Roosevelt Nix was stopped short on a fake punt at midfield with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter. New Orleans took the lead on the ensuing 10-play, 46-yard drive.
With the win, the Saints clinched the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Playoff seeding gains clarity
Securing the top seed is huge for Sean Payton and Drew Brees, who are 5-0 in home playoff games. Meanwhile, the Steelers now find themselves in a precarious position. Because the Ravens beat the Chargers on Saturday, the Steelers had to win Sunday to avoid losing their lead in the AFC North. Now having lost four of their last five, the Steelers are second in the division. They currently stand outside of the postseason picture, needing to beat the Bengals next week and have Baltimore falter against the Browns.
2. Cam Jordan was wrong on Big Ben
Earlier this week, Saints pass-rusher Cam Jordan was asked about Ben Roethlisberger, whom he said he didn’t view as one of the top five quarterbacks of his era. He even slotted Eli Manning ahead of Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger put on a show Sunday, throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, his team ultimately lost. But Big Ben reminded Jordan and any other doubters that he is indeed among the elite of the elite at the position. Roethlisberger broke out his entire bag of tricks on the Saints. He scrambled to extend plays. He displayed pinpoint accuracy on deep throws. He displayed his creativity and ability to deliver the ball despite having to use funky arm angles because of oncoming defenders. He exhibited his toughness as he hung tough in the pocket and delivered throws, absorbed big hits and got back up and kept dealing.
3. Perseverance on display
You knew this would be a good game, even before Baltimore won on Saturday to put the Steelers in a high-pressure, virtual must-win situation. And the Saints and Steelers didn’t disappoint.
The offenses took turns producing dazzling plays and scoring drives, and the defenses each picked opportune times to shine. The Saints’ offense recently has lacked the overall prolific explosiveness that it boasted for much of the season, but it still is dangerous. The Steelers were missing James Conner – a key contributor for much of the season – but Jaylen Samuels again stepped right in and had 53 yards on 12 carries.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.