The Pittsburgh Steelers played at 4:25 on Sunday in Week 16, and they knew a lot about their playoff situation when the game vs. the New Orleans Saints started. The Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts all winning meant the pressure was on for the visiting team.
Win, and remain in control of your own destiny.
Lose, and pray the Ravens lose next week vs. the Cleveland Browns...or it is all over.
With that said, with the Metrodome rocking, the Steelers elected to receive the opening kickoff, but were able to muster only one first down before Jordan Berry was called on to punt the ball back to Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense. After two first downs, the Saints put Taysom Hill in at quarterback, something they do often, and Hill went deep to Ted Ginn but was intercepted by Sean Davis.
Big time players make big time plays. pic.twitter.com/Nmejgc9uVZ— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 23, 2018
Davis’ return out of the endzone resulted in a horse collar personal foul, giving Pittsburgh the ball at their 40-yard line. After several first down throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers’ drive stalled on a failed 3rd and 1 pass to Antonio Brown resulted in negative yards. Chris Boswell was called on to kick a 49-yard field goal, and he split the uprights to give Pittsburgh an early 3-0 lead.
Controversy struck on the next drive as Brees moved the Saints into Steelers’ territory, but Mark Ingram was stuffed on a 3rd and 2 on the edge of field goal range. Sean Payton decided to go for it, and Brees targeted Alvin Kamara deep in the endzone when Joe Haden had a phantom pass interference called on him, giving New Orleans the ball at the one-yard line. Ingram plunged into the endzone on the next play to give the Saints the 7-3 lead.
Looking for a response, the Steelers found it with a 49-yard catch and run by Vance McDonald to move the offense into the red-zone for the first time of the afternoon. However, the NFL’s best red-zone offense stalled and had to rely on another Boswell field goal to make the score 7-6 with 14:05 left in the first half.
The controversy continued on the Saints’ next drive, and it was in the form of another Defensive Pass Interference call — this time on Morgan Burnett. With Burnett in good position on tight end Ben Watson, another phantom flag put the Saints in the red-zone. Two plays later Alvin Kamara walked into the endzone to give the Saints a 14-6 lead.
After a series of punts by both teams, the Steelers were able to put together a nice drive starting at their own 3-yard line which was capped off with an easy pitch-and-catch from Roethlisberger to Jaylen Samuels to make the score 14-12. The Steelers went for the two, and Roethlisberger connected with Eli Rogers to make the score 14-14 with 40 seconds left in the half.
Right when Steelers’ faithful thought the Saints would just head into halftime with a tie score, Brees moved the ball quickly into field goal range after a big catch and run by Alvin Kamara. The 43-yard field goal was good, making the score 17-14 heading into halftime.
The Saints started the second half with the football, and what ensued was the Kamara show as the talented running back played a huge role in the drive in both the running game and passing game. Kamara torched the Steelers’ secondary on crossing routes, and capped off the drive with a one-yard plunge into the endzone to make the score 24-14.
Desperately needing a scoring drive, Ben Roethlisberger delivered just that, but it wasn’t just one receiver who got the job done. Huge completions to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown and even Ryan Switzer got the team into a goal line situation. On 3rd and goal Roethlisberger threw to Brown for the touchdown, making the score 24-21 with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
No. 1️⃣4️⃣ pic.twitter.com/kOc3QHVnwN— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 23, 2018
After a huge defensive stop, which was highlighted by two sacks of Brees, the Steelers got the football back at their own 34 yard line. A completion to Brown, and another to Smith-Schuster moved the ball into the red-zone. It took just two more plays for Roethlisberger to find Brown again for a touchdown to make the score 28-24 with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
Allow him to reintroduce himself.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 23, 2018
His name is . pic.twitter.com/ySQuJzot4W
Pittsburgh’s defense kept playing solid football, and forced a rare three-and-out by the Saints. However, tragedy struck when, on a third-and-two, Stevan Ridley ran the ball and fumbled, giving the ball back to the Saints.
After the Steelers’ first turnover of the game, Brees and company moved quickly into Pittsburgh territory, but the Pittsburgh defense held strong when it mattered most. As Wil Lutz lined up for a 50 yard attempt, but L.J. Fort knifed through the line and blocked the kick.
HERE— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 24, 2018
On their next possession the Steelers’ offense was stopped short and lined up to punt. Rather than another Jordan Berry punt, the team decided to run a fake punt to the up-man, Roosevelt Nix, and he was stopped just shy of the line to gain. The decision turned the ball over around midfield to the Saints, down four points with 4:06 left in the 4th quarter.
Brees moved the ball to the Steelers’ 26, and faced a fourth-and-two, with what felt like the Steelers’ season on the line. The pass intended for Michael Thomas fell incomplete, but another questionable pass interference call gave them new life. After Kamara gave the Saints a first-and-goal situation, which was ended when Brees hit Thomas for a touchdown.
If there was a silver lining to the situation, it gave Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense 1:25 left on the clock, trailing 31-28, and no timeouts.
Facing a 4th and 15, Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown with the season on the line for the first down.
TONY— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 24, 2018
After a illegal contact penalty on Vance McDonald, Roethlisberger threw to Smith-Schuster, and while trying to fight for extra yards had the ball stripped the football away, and was recovered by the Saints.
The loss puts the Steelers behind the 8-ball, and moves their record to 8-6-1 as they prepare for the Bengals at Heinz Field in Week 17.