NFL Wire News

Steelers braced for shootout in Atlanta


PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers know they control their own destiny – win their final three regular-season games and they will win the AFC North and reach the postseason. The problem is that teams like Sunday’s opponent, the 5-8 Atlanta Falcons, have given them the most trouble this season.

The Steelers have lost to the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans took them right up until the end. All four of those teams are 2-11. Yet, the Steelers have beaten some of the better teams too, such as the Indianapolis Colts and the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.

“I feel like every win is a must win,” said nose tackle Steve McLendon. “We’re going to Atlanta and have single focus on them, go in there and handle our business.”

They have little choice, even though they might squeeze into the playoffs as a wild-card by winning two of their final three, especially if those two come against Kansas City and Cincinnati at home. What they’d like to do is have the division title come down to that final game in Heinz Field against the Bengals.

“I don’t want to look into the future, but if it came down to it and we control our own destiny, I wouldn’t mind it,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “But you can’t overlook the next two teams we got in front of us.”

Especially the Falcons, who have shown they can score points with the best of them at times. Atlanta has the No. 32-ranked defense in the NFL and the Steelers have given up a lot of points this season, so it would behoove Pittsburgh’s offense to crank it up in the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

“We just have to be aggressive,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh’s offense ranks second in the league with an average of 427 yards per game and sixth with an average of 27.8 points. Their stated goal earlier in the year was to score 30 points per game. They may have to increase that to 40 on Sunday against the Falcons, who have the No. 8 offense with an average of 381 yards.

“We go in it with a mentality that we need to win situational football and we need to take care of the football,” Tomlin said, eschewing any idea that they have a preset number of points they feel they have to score in any given game. “We feel like if we do that we’ll show our capabilities. We’ll ring the scoreboard up. We’ll put together winning performances.”

SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. The Steelers lead the series 12-2-1 that began in 1966 with the advent of the Atlanta franchise. They last met in 2010 in Heinz Field, where the Steelers won that season opener 15-9 to kick off their most recent run to the Super Bowl. In their last visit to Atlanta in 2006, the Steelers lost in overtime, 41-38, to a Falcons team with Michael Vick at quarterback.

NOTES: QB Ben Roethlisberger was given Wednesday off as the team practiced indoors on artificial turf, the same reason he was given off the previous Wednesday. … LB James Harrison (knee), who missed last Sunday’s game, did not practice Wednesday. The Steelers may want to rest him one more game. … CB Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm) did not practice Wednesday. He was pulled from the game last Sunday after giving up an 81-yard touchdown. … CB William Gay (quad) did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play.

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