There’s No Place Like Dome: Saints Beat Steelers to Secure #1 Seed and Home-Field Advantage Throughout the Playoffs

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Forty-two days. That’s the exact length of time that could elapse between right now and the next time that the New Orleans Saints would have to play a game away from the Superdome: which would be February 3rd, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, the site of Super Bowl LIII.

The (13-2) Saints moved one step closer to making that scenario become a reality yesterday afternoon with a thrilling come-from-behind 31-28 win at home against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.

Future Hall of Famer and Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees topped off a solid performance with a two-yard touchdown to Michael Thomas with only 1:25 left; that allowed New Orleans to clinch the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the NFL Playoffs, which get underway next month.

Meanwhile, the (8-6-1) Steelers took a significant hit to their playoff hopes. They now will need to win their game against Cincinnati along with a Baltimore loss to Cleveland, to even qualify for the post-season.

The game played out in typical heart-stopping action for the Black and Gold, which needed two critical 4th quarter stops by the defense — which struggled at times against the Steelers passing attack — to secure the victory in the game’s final minute. The first stop came when the Saints forced a fumble by Steelers running back and former LSU star Stevan Ridley on a 3rd down and short play. The other key stop came a series later when Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin called for a fake punt but upback Roosevelt Nix was stopped short at midfield with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans then got the ball back and eventually took the lead on the ensuing 10-play, 46-yard drive. The Saints would need a 25-yard completion to veteran wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. who was just recently activated from injured reserve, on a crucial 3rd-Down-and-20 play from the Pittsburgh 32-yard line.

Two plays later Brees hit Thomas, who finished with 11 receptions for 109 yards, for what would become the game-winning score.

However, Pittsburgh refused to go down without a fight; with just over a minute remaining and no time-outs left, they were able to drive into field goal range.

But that’s when Saints 3rd-year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins — who may be the team’s defensive MVP this season — came up big once again (as he has all season long). He made the tackle and then stripped the ball away from Steelers wide receiver JuJu Schuster, which was then recovered by Saints linebacker Demario Davis to seal the victory.

Brees led the way for the Saints on offense, throwing for 326 passing yards and a touchdown; while running back Alvin Kamara gained 105 total yards from scrimmage and ran for two touchdowns for New Orleans. The Saints will now will likely rest their starting players in their final regular season game next week at home against the Carolina Panthers.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints defense bent on more than one occasion but still managed not to break against a Steelers offense that’s very dangerous within their own right.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who is a future Hall of Famer himself — passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns going to All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who had a stellar performance in a losing effort as he caught a whopping 14 receptions for 185 yards.

It can’t be overstated enough just how important last night’s win was for the Black and Gold, with regard to their ultimate team/franchise goal of winning the Super Bowl in several weeks from now. The Saints are considered virtually unbeatable at home inside of the Superdome during the post-season, and they’re actually (5-0) all-time in Playoffs games there during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.

Conversely, New Orleans is only (1-5) all-time as the visiting team on the road in the Playoffs.

Clearly, the home-field advantage for the Saints makes them the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl, but the only real thing that it guarantees them right now is a 1st Round Bye and the opportunity to host the Divisional Round Playoff game at the Superdome on the weekend of January 12th-13th.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Going any further (the NFC Championship Game and possibly Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta) will be a bridge that New Orleans will eventually have to cross, when and if those opportunities eventually arise.

This much is for certain, however: there’s no place like “Dome” for the Saints, and it’s a place that they very likely won’t need to leave again now for quite some time — or at least not for another 42 days.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.

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