Brees leads Saints to No. 1 playoff seed in NFC

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints proved once again Sunday how dangerous they are inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

And now they won’t have to leave this place again until the Super Bowl as a result of their thrilling, come-from-behind 31-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Saints (13-2) locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, thanks to Brees’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining and a game-clinching fumble by Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with 32 seconds left that was forced by Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and recovered by linebacker Demario Davis.

The Saints now have the luxury of deciding if they want to rest their starters in Week 17 at home against the Carolina Panthers.

More important, the Saints rediscovered their offense after they had been slumping during a three-game road trip to start December.

The Saints had scored a total of 50 points (just nine of them in the first half) over their previous three games, with Brees never throwing for more than 203 yards and tossing a total of two touchdowns.

But back home for the first time in four weeks, Brees regained his MVP-candidate form, completing 27 of 39 passes for 326 yards and a score. The winning drive was the 48th of Brees’ career in either the fourth quarter or overtime, moving him into second place since 1970 behind only Peyton Manning, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Thomas caught 11 passes for 109 yards and the TD. Receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who just returned from injured reserve to play in his first game since Week 4, had five catches for 74 yards.

Running back Alvin Kamara had 105 yards from scrimmage and two scores — and in the process tied Dalton Hilliard for the Saints franchise record with 18 touchdowns on the season.

Mark Ingram also set a New Orleans franchise record with his 50th career TD run. And kicker Wil Lutz set a franchise record by making his 26th consecutive field goal just before halftime.

Lutz’s streak ended when he saw a 50-yard field goal attempt blocked in the fourth quarter with New Orleans still trailing 28-24.

That’s when the Saints defense stepped up — forcing two fumbles and stopping a fake punt over the Steelers’ final three drives to redeem itself for struggling earlier in the game.

The Saints’ defense, which had been the hottest defense in the NFL over the past six weeks, allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Antonio Brown caught 14 passes for 185 yards and two TDs, and Smith-Schuster caught 11 passes for 115 yards.

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