The Saints officially have the #1 seed in the NFC meaning the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through New Orleans.
Still, it was a roller coaster of a game to get there, with plenty of “Ups” and “Downs” along the way. Here are a few that stood out:
Up: the win
It wasn’t the prettiest win, but it still go the job done. With the Saints asking the defense to make one more play to seal the win, Sheldon Rankins and PJ Williams were able to do just that and force a fumble from JuJu Smith-Schuster to seal the game.
The #Saints force the fumble and get the No. 1 seed in the NFC!#Steelers fans now turn into #Browns fans for their playoff hopes! pic.twitter.com/f8Te6edOTY— Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) December 24, 2018
The Saints relied on Drew Brees and the offense to give them the lead, and then asked the Saints defense to hold it with under a minute left in the game. Both sides of the ball were able to get the job done late, and that’s why the Saints have the best record in the NFL right now.
Up: Ted Ginn Jr
It was nice to have Ted Ginn Jr back, suited up for the Saints, and he made an impact in his first game back.
It was reported that Ginn would be on a pitch-count against the Steelers, but he made the most of his limited snaps, none bigger than a huge 25-yard conversion on a 3rd and 20 late in the game.
Brees finds Ted Ginn Jr. for a first down on 3rd and 20!#PITvsNO pic.twitter.com/nA6pvdtYMO— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 24, 2018
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what impact his presence had on the returned success of Michael Thomas and Drew Brees, but it’s far from just a coincidence.
It’s important to be consistent and point out poor officiating even when it benefits the Saints. Here, it is absolutely clear the Saints were gifted a touchdown based off a phantom defensive pass interference call against Joe Haden early in the game.
Possibly the worst pass interference call in the history of western civilization #Steelers #Saints pic.twitter.com/Kl2grAx2aL— No Baseball Podcast (@nobaseballpod) December 23, 2018
Most of the rest of the calls were understandable, even if respective fanbases didn’t agree. Haden was absolutely guilty of defensive pass interference against Michael Thomas later in the game. Andrus Peat was absolutely guilty of a hold. Eli Apple’s defensive pass interference call was questionable, but it felt like the typical “make up call” (I hate those, but that’s a rant for another day) based off the earlier Haden call. It is what it is, but the DPI called with Alvin Kamara in the end zone swung early momentum.
But after multiple calls and challenges of the catch+fumble+recovery not going the Saints week in recent weeks, it was at least nice to see NFL referees make the call consistently on the Michael Thomas non-fumble.
Down: Saints secondary
After playing well the past few weeks (and for the first half of the game against the Steelers), the Saints secondary really struggled for much of the second half of the game.
It is rare for a team to be facing off against two Pro Bowl caliber wide receivers like Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but if the Saints want long-term success in the playoffs, they will need to play more like Weeks 14 and 15, and not the second half of Week 16.
But here’s to the Saints having two weeks to make those adjustments.