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 stays hot at the plate

Astros overpower White Sox in series opener

Abraham Toro made a loud return to the Astros' lineup on Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a two-game sweep of the struggling Rangers behind them, the Astros welcomed in a much fiercer opponent in the Chicago White Sox, owners of the best record in the AL, for an exciting four-game set. It was all Astros in this one, as their offense would once again propel them to a lopsided win.

Final Score: Astros 10, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 40-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dylan Cease (5-3)

Houston builds a big lead

Houston wasted no time in the bottom of the first, getting two on base on a single and an error to set up a three-run home run for Michael Brantley, putting them ahead 3-0 before Chicago and Dylan Cease could record an out. They extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth, putting two on base on a walk and hit batter before an RBI ground-rule double by Carlos Correa brought in one. That left runners on second and third, and Abraham Toro took advantage by scoring both on a two-RBI single, then with one out, Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to make it a 7-0 lead.

Urquidy brings the good stuff

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was cruising through Chicago's lineup. He allowed just one hit through the first five scoreless innings but would let the White sox get on the board in the top of the sixth after a leadoff double and two-out RBI single. They added one more on another single, making it 7-2 before Urquidy could get out of the inning.

Jose Altuve got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, hitting his fourth home run in three games to make it a six-run game at 8-2. Urquidy returned to the mound in the top of the seventh, getting a quick 1-2-3 frame to end his successful night. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 93 P.

Astros take the opener

In the bottom of the seventh, Houston pushed the lead to eight runs with a leadoff single, setting up a two-out two-run homer by Toro, bringing him to four RBI on the night. With Urquidy's night over, Brandon Bielak came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen, sitting down Chicago in order. Ralph Garza Jr. came in to get an inning of work to finish off the game with Houston's large lead. He made it a quick one, with Chicago going down in order one more time as the Astros took the opener and notched their fourth-straight win.

Up Next: Game two of this entertaining series will be another 7:10 PM Central Start on Friday. Carlos Rodon (6-2, 1.89 ERA) will try to help Chicago even the series, while Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.98 ERA) will try to put Houston up 2-0.

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