Saints lock up NFC #1 seed in dramatic 31-28 win

The good, bad and ugly of the Saints win over the Steelers

Michael Thomas was clutch. Michael C Hevert, Saints website

The Saints came into this game needing one win in their last two games to lock up home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. They pulled it off in dramatic fashion 31-28 over the Steelers. Here's how I saw things:

The Good

-Michael Thomas caught 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He now owns the team record with 120 catches in a season. Drew Brees found him in the end zone on a back shoulder throw that was supposed to be a fade, but Thomas stumbled. He's firmly established himself as a top five receiver in the league.

- Mark Ingram got his 50th career rushing touchdown in the first quarter, which is a team record. He brings the thunder while Alvin Kamara is the lightning. Kamara has 22 so far in just his second season.

-Saints special teams stopped the Steelers on a fake punt run up the middle that led to their game winning touchdown and the defense came up with a game-saving fumble recovery on the Steelers' last standing drive. Those two phases of the game are critically important and they came up big in the clutch today.

The Bad

-Taysom Hill threw an interception on a deep ball to Tedd Ginn Jr. He let the ball hang in the air too long and it was just about fair caught. Josh Hill was flagged for a horse collar tackle on the return. Not the ideal way you want to start your first offensive possession.

-Eli Apple was called for pass interference that placed the ball at the two yard line. Then two miscommunications in man coverage led to a Steelers touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 under a minute left before halftime. This capped a 16-play 97 yard drive.

-Brees took back to back sacks late in the third quarter after the Steelers cut the lead to 24-21. Saints punted and it gave the Steelers the momentum they needed to take a 28-24 lead on the ensuing drive.

The Ugly

-The pass interference call on Joe Haden against Kamara on the 4th down play was ridiculous. I understand Haden extended his arms, but he did nothing to prevent Kamara from catching the ball. Refs continue to make calls that swing the momentum.

-Terron Armstead injured his pectoral muscle again. It's apparent that the five games he missed due to the injury and the brace he's wearing means he's playing hurt. His health is clearly linked to the offense's ability to run at full strength. Securing the first round bye and home field would mean a lot to his health and overall performance of this offense.

-Steelers may have exposed a weakness even more so in the Saints defense. When they went five wide, the Saints had trouble stopping the pass attack. Ben Roethlisberger tore the defense up whether it was short, medium, or long passes out of that formation.

This was a fun game to watch. Seeing two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks duel in their primes always makes for good football. But it was the defenses that made it exciting and special teams that came up big. Oh. And Brees had yet another 300+ yard game. Now they won't have to leave New Orleans in the playoffs unless they make it to Atlanta.

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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