NFL Wire News

Steelers-Falcons: What we learned

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ATLANTA — Steeler Nation took over the Georgia Dome on Sunday and liked what it saw.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell scored two touchdowns, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown set franchise records to help the Steelers keep control of their playoff destiny with a 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Fans dressed in Pittsburgh gear and waving yellow Terrible Towels outnumbered the Falcons faithful, who watched in dismay as the Steelers held off Atlanta in the fourth quarter.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Steeler Nation,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “They were special in the building today, just love and appreciate that support that we get from our fans on the road. We are used to seeing it, but it never gets old.”

Bell scored his second touchdown of the game on a 13-yard sweep that put the Steelers up 27-13 early in the fourth quarter.

Roethlisberger didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but finished with 360 passing yards to set a Pittsburgh single-season passing-yards mark, topping the record of 4,328 yards he set in 2009. Roethlisberger now has 4,415 passing yards this season.

Brown caught 10 passes for 123 yards and broke Hines Ward’s franchise record for receptions in a season. Brown has 115 catches this season, two more than Ward had 12 years ago.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw two touchdowns, including a 4-yarder to receiver Roddy White that cut the Steelers’ lead to 27-20 with 10:21 to play. The touchdown was White’s 62nd of his career, setting the franchise record.

The Falcons got the ball back with a chance to tie, but couldn’t put together a scoring drive as Pittsburgh fans chanted “defense, defense.”

Ryan completed 26 of 37 passes for 310 yards, despite not having starting receiver Julio Jones. Jones, who entered the week as the NFL’s leading receiver, was inactive with a hip injury suffered last week against the Green Bay Packers.

Without Jones, the Falcons got off to a slow start offensively but found some rhythm behind Ryan in the third quarter. But they had to settle for two Matt Bryant field goals on drives inside the Pittsburgh 15-yard line. Bryant’s second field goal cut the Steelers’ lead to 20-13 with 2:40 left in the third quarter.

“We didn’t start fast on offense,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “We were hit and miss throughout the day, and we were not making the plays early in the game. We were off a little bit, and then came back and moved the football. Consistency continues to be something that we have to better at.”

Both teams remain in tight division races. The Steelers (9-5) began the day one-half game behind the Cincinnati Bengals and tied with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. Pittsburgh will win the division if it beats the Kansas City Chiefs next week and the Bengals in Week 17. Both games are in Pittsburgh.

Despite the loss, the Falcons (5-9) can seal the NFC South title with wins at the New Orleans Saints next week and over the Carolina Panthers at home in Week 17.

“We’re just glad that we’re in the situation that we’re in, and we know what we have to do,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to be a very interesting two weeks, not only for the NFC South, but all across the NFL.”

What the Steelers said:

“It’s great to come back here. I have not been back since I left college. Seeing all the Georgia fans and the Steelers fans supporting us, it’s amazing.” — Linebacker Jarvis Jones, who played collegiately at the University of Georgia.

What the Falcons said:

“We want Julio Jones out there on the field anytime that he can be out there. Our people in the medical department felt like it wasn’t in his best interest to go out and play the game. They’re going to be the ones that make that decision. Mike Smith’s not going to make that decision about Julio Jones, (neither) is Julio Jones.” — Coach Mike Smith.

What we learned about the Steelers:

1. The Steelers are going to be a dangerous out in the AFC playoffs. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is making the most of an offense loaded with big-play weapons. Antonio Brown has emerged as an elite wide receiver, and running back Le’Veon Bell is playing as well or better than any back in the league. The balanced attack helped the Steelers convert 6 of 11 third downs against the Falcons. Pittsburgh can clinch the AFC North with home wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

2. While Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell get most of the attention, coach Mike Tomlin credits some of the Steelers’ complementary offensive weapons for the offense’s success this year. “Whether it’s (Markus) Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, we have a nice group of complementary guys that don’t get a lot of volume in terms of opportunity, but when they get the opportunity they deliver.”

Wheaton had five catches for 66 yards, and veteran tight end Heath Miller had four catches for 68 yards, 25-yard grab for a first down that allowed the Steelers to go into the victory formation with less than two minutes to play.

–QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for 360 yards to set a Pittsburgh single-season passing-yards mark, topping the record of 4,328 yards he set in 2009. Roethlisberger now has 4,415 passing yards this season.

–WR Antonio Brown caught 10 passes for 123 yards and broke Hines Ward’s franchise record for receptions in a season. Brown has 115 catches this season, two more than Ward had 12 years ago.

–CB William Gay recorded his third interception of the season, picking off Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and returning it 52 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Gay has returned all three of his interceptions this season for touchdowns.

What we learned about the Falcons:

1. The Falcons have dropped two straight, but are playing better football. They’ve pieced together some sort of running behind veteran back Steven Jackson, who ran for 46 yards on 11 carries against Pittsburgh. The defense, although still ranked last in the NFL, held the explosive Steelers’ offense to only two touchdowns. The Falcons will need that improvement to pay dividends in the final two weeks of the season. Atlanta will win the downtrodden NFC South with wins at the New Orleans Saints next week and at home against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17.

2. The Falcons traded a lot to move up in the 2011 NFL Draft and select wide receiver Julio Jones. And it’s paid off — when he’s healthy. Jones erupted for a career-high 259 yards against the Green Bay Packers last week, but he suffered a hip injury in the game and missed Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

–WR Julio Jones, the NFL leader in receiving yards, missed Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a hip injury. Jones suffered the injury in last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers and did not practice all week. Jones had a career-high 253 yards receiving against the Packers.

–WR Roddy White became the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 62 on his 4-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. White caught seven passes for 58 yards.

–WR Harry Douglas moved into the starting lineup for the injured Julio Jones and caught 10 passes for 131 yards.


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