The Pittsburgh Steelers caught a break with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones being inactive, but it was also a bit of a surprise that right tackle Marcus Gilbert was unable to return to the lineup for this inter-conference match up. Also inactive are James Harrison and Ike Taylor.
A win today would secure the Steelers’ first winning season since 2011 and help them keep pace in a close division and conference race. The Falcons have had their struggles this year; like the Steelers, they have a passing game to go up against the best, but their defense has left much to be desired.
The Steelers won the coin toss and chose to receive, starting at the 20 after a touchback. On first down, Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for nine yards, and Le’Veon Bell moved the chains for two yards on the following play. After two chunk gains by Brown for 18 and Martavis Bryant for 14, Roethlisberger found Bell for 11. After two carries for five yards, Roethlisberger couldn’t find an open receiver on third and five as the Steelers were forced to settle for a field goal on their opening drive.
The Falcons began their opening drive from the 20-yard line as well after Shamarko Thomas was able to tackle Devin Hester after a 16-yard return. Stephen Jackson gained about eight yards on first down up the right side. After two passes for 15 yards, Jackson found another hole across midfield. Following a short gain and incompletion, on third and eight, Matt Ryan was flushed out of the pocket and tried to hit Roddy White on the run, but the throw was a bit high and hard as the Falcons had to punt. Brown fair caught the ball on the seven-yard line.
The drive opened with Bell getting the ball and gaining about two yards up the left side. On second down, he gained about six yards to make it third and two. Roethlisberger dumped it off to Bell for a big gain on the play, and after the officials picked up a flag, it turned into a 44-yard pickup. After coming off a block, Heath Miller caught his first pass for about eight yards. Off play action, Roethlisberger fired a quick pass for a first down to the sideline for Markus Wheaton. The quarterback was brought down off play action on the following play, however. On second and 17, he went down the sideline to Bryant in the end zone, but it was incomplete. Brown picked up about 10 yards to get closer into field goal range, and the Steelers took a 6-0 lead.
Devin Hester returned the kickoff close to the 40-yard line after the field goal. William Gay jumped in front of a high pass on first down and made a nice return for a pick six for 52 yards, giving the Steelers a 13-0 lead. That’s one way to combat red zone struggles.
After a two-yard gain on first down, Harry Douglas picked up eight yards for the first down to the 30. He was flagged for offensive pass interference on the following play. Jackson got back the penalty yardage on a 10-yard run on first down. On second and long, White was stopped as he caught the ball for a short gain by Antwon Blake. On third and six, Ryan’s pass was tipped incomplete. Brown gave the Steelers good field position with a 31-yard punt return out to the 44.
The Steelers tried to run the counter left, but Bell was dragged down from behind for a loss of three. Roethlisberger tried to dump it off to Bell on second down, but the pass was tipped. Brown caught the third down pass on the move, but came up shy. On fourth and two, Roethlisberger took about 20 seconds attempting to draw the Falcons offside, but they did not bite. The punt as fair caught inside the 15.
Jackson was strung out to the sideline on first down and ridden out of bounds after a two-yard gain. He picked up around 12 yards through the air on second down. White got the Falcons across midfield on the next play. After a yard on the ground on first down, Douglas moved the chains on a screen pass. Jason Worilds buried Ryan for a sack, but the officials called it roughing the passer. It looked like a bad call to me.
After a seven-yard pickup on first down, Sean Spence cut through the line to make a tackle for loss to set up third and six. Ryan went over the top to Hester for the score over Blake to make it 13-7.
On first down, Bryant used his body to bring in a catch at the sticks and stretch out for 13 yards. Bell was held to a couple yards. Wheaton was hit immediately after just a few yards to set up third and four. After the two minute warning, Roethlisberger went to Bell to pick up the first down.
On the following play, he looked down the field for Lance Moore, but his pass was wide. Wheaton picked up nine yards to set up a third and one. Bell pushed the pile to get the first down. After a seven-yard pass to Bell, Roethlisberger connected with Miller inside the 30 as the Steelers spiked the ball. He went over the top for Brown, who made the catch, but it was ruled out of bounds initially. A booth review overturned the ruling, giving the Steelers the ball on the one-yard line. Bell got in from the one for Pittsburgh’s first offensive touchdown of the game, taking a 20-7 lead with less than 30 seconds in the half.
Ryan Shazier did an excellent job of keeping the Falcons inbounds on their second play to force them to burn a timeout on a short gain. With 11 seconds left, Ryan was forced the check down after avoiding a sack. With one second in the half, the Falcons could only hope for a hail mary. Ryan simply scrambled to end the half.