NFL Monday Morning Madness: Saints outlast Steelers, Foles’ magic returns

Shortly after Michael Thomas’ game-winning touchdown catch was awarded, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster rewarded the Saints with a game-ending fumble, that may be season-ending for the Steelers.

But the Saints deserved this game. They took it by fending off a talented Pittsburgh team playing for their life. Behind their juggernaut of an offensive trio, New Orleans (13-2) clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and are back to putting the league on notice. They are the best team.

Drew Brees (326 yards, one touchdown), Alvin Kamara (105 total yards, two touchdowns) and the aforementioned Thomas (11 catches, 109 yards, one score) imposed their will on Pittsburgh, a defense that had help Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 10 points last week, to keep their season alive.

But the Saints yield the NFL’s most lethal offense. With Kareem Hunt absent from the explosive Chiefs, and the Rams enjoying a winter swoon, New Orleans now holds the title of ‘offense you’d least like to face,’ and that unit will play at home for the remainder of their season, save for Super Bowl LIII.

The Steelers (9-6-1) were tough, rallying from a 24-14 deficit to take a 28-24 lead. They blocked a Saints field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and even converted on a 4th-and-15 on the game’s final drive, when Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown along the sideline for a clutch connection. But Pittsburgh now needs help via a Browns win over the Ravens in Week 17, to continue their season.

The Saints don’t need help from anyone, they just need to play more like this on offense, as opposed to their lallygagging endured in their last three outings versus the Cowboys, Buccaneers and Panthers. That should be easier at home, where Brees and head coach Sean Payton have never lost in the postseason.

This is their best shot at a second Super Bowl ring, and now they have three weeks to plan for an NFC Divisional matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Foles keeps Eagles’ season alive, but is he better for Philly than Wentz?

Out comes Carson Wentz. Insert Nick Foles as the Eagles QB1 for a game versus the Rams in Los Angeles. Here come the Eagles, again.

After the Texans erased a 13-point deficit to take a 30-29 lead over the Eagles with just over two minutes to play, the Philadelphia crowd held their collective breath, but only for a second. They had seen this before.

The eventual result — Last season’s Super Bowl MVP (Foles) saved the Eagles’ current season by directing a game-winning drive to defeat Houston, 32-30.

Even after getting the wind knocked out of him on a clutch pass to third-and-10-converting pass to Alshon Jeffrey, Foles showed grit in returning after sitting out just one play, and eventually willing Philadelphia to a win that keeps them alive in the NFC Wild Card race.

Second-year phenom Deshaun Watson (29-for-40, 339 yards, two touchdowns) was awesome in leading the Texans from behind in the fourth quarter. But Foles (35-for-49, 471 yards, four touchdowns) was better. Philadelphia’s QB2 has now beaten the Rams and Texans, both the NFC and AFC’s No. 2 seeds (at the time), and is in the midst of making a strong case to the Eagles’ brass that he should be the team’s starter.

Carson Wentz was well on his way to winning NFL MVP last year before he went down, but that magic has yet to return in full in his Year 3 campaign. After a slow start to the 2018 season, Foles returned to the bench for Wentz, who was rushed back from injury, but the Eagles stumbled to a 6-7 record. But Foles now has the Eagles peeking out of the hole they dug, searching for a way into the NFC Playoff field (they’ll need the Vikings to lose to the Bears next week.)

But perhaps his second-consecutive December run is an audition tape for other franchises. The Eagles would have to pick up a $20 million mutual option to keep Foles in 2019, meaning this could be his last run with the franchise in Philadelphia.

“It’s emotional. I love playing in Philly. I knew there’s a chance this could be it. This city means a lot to me,” Foles said postgame. “There’s a chance it’s coming to an end. I am very grateful for every opportunity to play here.”

Teams like the Jaguars and Buccaneers will surely be looking for quarterbacks, but Foles has made a great case in Philadelphia. Although he’s not in his rookie contract, Foles is just 29 years old. But Wentz has shown his game-breaking potential in his play during the 2017 regular season. He may have 10 or 12 more seasons of that, if he ever regains his form. But what about Cam Newton’s 2015 MVP campaign? The Panthers quarterback hasn’t been close to that since. Foles has proven better than Went in big games, but it would seem silly for Philadelphia to give up on the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, so soon. The decision is certainly a tough one. But the Eagles front office likely doesn’t see a quarterback controversy at all. At least that’s what they’d say if they were asked.

During NBC’s Sunday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Seahawks, Al Michales and Chris Collinsworth mentioned that Foles told them he would have retired if it weren’t for Andy Reid bringing him into Kansas City in 2016. Foles won’t have an issue finding a new home in 2019, if that is indeed the case. But maybe where he plays now should be home. The next few weeks may decide that.

Quick-hits

– Two of the most exciting quarterbacks the league has ever seen dueled on Sunday night, with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks outlasting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, 38-31. The win clinched a playoff berth for Seattle, who overcame the losses of many of their great defensive players over the years, to return to the postseason. Few saw this coming (except for me), and now the Seahawks enter the postseason as a dangerous team built on a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and coach, the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense, and a fast-improving defense.

The Chiefs should still lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. All they have to do is beat the Raiders at home. Mahomes may still win the MVP award (I’ll make my pick between him and Drew Brees next week), but even he can’t seem to overcome the ineptitude of Kansas City’s defense, which has burned them in jus about every one of their big games this season. Will homefield advantage in the AFC be a cure-all for Andy Reid’s bunch?

– Behind a season high 275 rushing yards, and two timely interceptions of Josh Allen, the Patriots overcame an ugly effort from Tom Brady and the passing game to beat the Bills 24-12 and clinch their 10th-straight AFC East title. Additionally, with the Texans’ loss to the Eagles, New England just needs to beat the Jets (4-11) at home next week to clinch the AFC’s No. 2 seed. The Patriots don’t look right. This team is different than their usual norm. But with a first-round bye for the ninth-straight year, they can certainly do some damage in the postseason. Look out.

-Colts-Titans is the right pick for the Week 17 SNF matchup. After all of next Sunday’s early and late afternoon games are finished, two 9-6 teams will square off in what’s unofficially the first playoff game of the season. Indianapolis is the better team but Tennessee has beaten some better opponents, including a 34-10 beatdown of the Patriots, and a magical comeback win in overtime over the Eagles this past Fall. Give me Andrew Luck and the Colts whether Marcus Mariota suits up or not. The Titans are tough, but the Colts have developed a gritty identity of their own overnight, and that should culminate in overcoming a 1-5 start to the season to make the playoffs.

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