Steelers run by Falcons in OT

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Mendenhall scores in OT

The Falcons lose a heart-breaker in their 2010 season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers pulled an overtime victory by a score of 15-9 in what was mostly a defensive struggle.

Matt Ryan led the team with 27 completions on 44 attempts for 252 yards with an interception. The Falcons had little success on the ground, rushing for 58 yards. Michael Turner led the team with 42 of those yards on 19 carries. Roddy White had a career high with 13 receptions for 111 yards. Harry Douglas got the start opposite him in place of an injured Michael Jenkins and finished with 3 catches for 39 yards. Eric Weems also contributed with 4 grabs for 36 yards. Tony Gonzalez caught a pair of passes for 35 yards, surpassing the 1000-catch career mark, joining a group of only 6 NFL players all-time and being the first tight end to do so.

The Falcons offense struggled throughout the day, but got off to a poor start in the first quarter, going 0 for 3 on third down conversions. They looked a little better in the second quarter, and put the team within field goal range twice on their final two series of the half. They came out strong in the third quarter, leading the team on a scoring drive of 12 plays for 46 yards, leading to their second field goal. Ryan was able to lead the team on another drive in the fourth quarter which was the team’s lone venture into the Steelers red zone all game which tied the game up at 9-9 with 3 minutes left. The Falcons were able to get the ball back with 1:45 on the clock, but Ryan was picked off on first down by Troy Polamalu, giving the Steelers the ball at the Falcon 30-yard line. The defense held and Jeff Reed missed a field goal with 43 seconds remaining which led to overtime. The Falcons won the toss, but a hold by Ovie Mughelli on the kickoff forced them to start their drive at their own 9 yard line. A third down conversion on a pass to Jason Snelling was nulified by another hold on Sam Baker, and the Falcons were forced to punt. The next play Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall romped 50 yards untouched for the game-winning touchdown in sudden death.

Defensively, the Falcons held strong for most of the game until that final game-winning score. After allowing the Steelers to march 40 yards down the field for a field goal on their opening drive, they held the Steelers offense to three-and-outs on their next three series. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 11 tackles and also added a sack. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 sack), Jamaal Anderson (4 tackles), Kroy Biermann (2 tackles, 1 sack), Erik Coleman (9 tackles), Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles), Mike Peterson (6 tackles, 1 interception), Dunta Robinson (6 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (8 tackles) had noteworthy games. The Falcons were able to put some pressure on the Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon several times throughout the game, forcing the inexperienced passer into some poor throws. The run defense was solid for the most part given top defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux missed the game due to a suspension. Prior to the big run in overtime, Mendenhall had been held to 70 yards on 22 carries.

Matt Bryant missed his first field goal attempt of 46 yards, but nailed three more of 49, 39, and eventually 23 yards to tie up the score and force overtime. The wind likely was a factor on his miss that sailed wide right, as it also cost opposing kicker Jeff Reed two field goals, including a 40-yarder that could have won the game for the Steelers following Polamalu’s interception. MIchael Koenen had a busy day, punting 7 times for an average of 40.1 yards with 4 being placed inside the 20-yard line. Jerious Norwood had 3 kickoff returns for an average of 21 yards. Weems added a 19-yard kickoff return and returned 2 punts for 20 total yards.

This marks the first time the Falcons have lost their season opener under head coach Mike Smith. They hope to bounce next week vs. the Arizona Cardinals at home. They will get back Jonathan Babineaux, and also might get a recovered Michael Jenkins. Although in both previous season opening wins under Smith were at home, meaning the Falcons haven’t lost a home opener yet in the Smitty Era. The Falcons last bout with the Cardinals was a 2008 playoff loss on the road by a score of 30-24. Their last home game vs. Arizona came in a 2006 win by a score of 32-10. The Falcons have won their last four home games vs. the Cardinals dating back to 1994.

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