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Steelers need help to make playoffs after 31-28 loss to Saints

Joe Rutter
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Eli Rogers #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates scoring a two-point conversion with JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 during the first half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws the ball during the first half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Terrell Edmunds #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown during the second half against the Pittsburg Steelers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS – Help needed.

That’s the rallying cry for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who no longer control their playoff hopes after a final-minute 31-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday.

The Steelers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, but the Saints regained the lead with 1:25 left on Drew Brees’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas.

The loss, the fourth in the past five games, dropped the Steelers (8-6-1) into second place in the AFC North, one-half game behind the Baltimore Ravens (9-6), heading into the regular-season finale next weekend.

For the first time since their bye week two months ago, the Steelers will take the field not occupying first place in the division.

The path to a fifth-consecutive playoff berth no longer hinges on the Steelers merely beating the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. The Steelers also would need the Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) to knock off the Ravens in Baltimore.

The only way the Steelers will secure a wild-card berth is if the Titans (9-6) and Colts (9-6) tie their meeting in Tennessee.

Trailing 24-14, the Steelers took a 28-24 lead on two Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes to Antonio Brown. But Stevan Ridley lost a fumble, and the Steelers came up short on fake punt to end consecutive drives.

The Saints scored the go-ahead touchdown on Brees’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas with 1:25 left. A pass interference call against cornerback Joe Haden – the second questionable one called against him in the game – aided the drive.

After the Ravens defeated the Chargers on Saturday night, the Steelers knew they needed to beat the Saints to avoid falling into second place in the division for the first time in two months.

With 9:13 left in the third quarter, they trailed 24-14.

Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 3 and 20 yards to Brown in the third quarter to give the Steelers a 28-24 advantage. They were driving inside Saints territory when Ridley lost a fumble on a third-and-2 run at the 35. The play was reviewed, but replay upheld the call on the field, and the Saints took over with 10:12 left.

Will Lutz tried to cut into the Steelers’ lead, but his 53-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by L.J. Fort with 6:13 left.

Facing a fourth-and-5 at their 42, the Steelers ran a fake punt. The ball was snapped to Roosevelt Nix, who was stopped short of a first down.

The Saints took over with 4:06 left. They faced a fourth-and-2 at the 26 at the two-minute warning. Haden was called for pass interference at the 22 on an incompletion to Thomas, extending the drive. A holding call pushed the Saints back 10 yards, but Brees threw a 25-yard strike to Ted Ginn Jr. for a first down at the 7 with 1:33 left.

A completion to Thomas moved the ball to the 2. Brees then rolled out and threw to Thomas, who had his feet in the end zone but fell forward as he caught the pass. The play initially was ruled down at the 1, but it was overturned to a touchdown upon replay review.

Down to their last chance, Roethlisberger threw a 19-yard completion to Brown on fourth-and-15 with 1:02 left. He found JuJu Smith-Schuster for 14 yards to give the Steelers a first down at the Saints 47. Roethlisberger completed another pass to Smith-Schuster at the 35, but the ball popped from his grasp and the Saints recovered to seal their win.

Brees completed 27 of 39 passes for 326 yards, and Alvin Kamara had two touchdown runs.

Roethlisberger completed 32 of 49 passes for 373 yards. Brown caught 14 passes for 185 yards, and Smith-Schuster had 10 receptions for 108 yards.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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