Steelers soar over Falcons

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Ben Roethlisberger celebrates

The Falcons remain winless in the preseason, suffering their third loss with a 34-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road Saturday night.

Matt Ryan played the entire first half in his most extensive playing time of the preseason. He completed 22 of 42 passes for 220 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Chris Redman came into the game in the second half and completed 8 of 18 passes for 89 yards and an interception. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 38 yards on 7 carries in the second half. Michael Turner started and had 19 yards on 7 carries and Jason Snelling had 12 yards on 4 carries. Roddy White had a strong performance with 8 grabs for 101 yards and a score to lead the receivers. Julio Jones (5 catches, 59 yards), Harry Douglas (3 catches, 31 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 26 yards) also made their presences known in the first half. Matt Bryant hit on all 3 field goal attempts in the game, connecting on kicks of 23, 30, and 46 yards. Matt Bosher averaged 35 yards on 4 punts with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems had a punt return go 48 yards as well as a 17-yard kickoff return.

Defensively, the Falcons were tough with William Moore leading the unit with 6 tackles. While there were several breakdowns in the secondary that led to big plays, the defense held the Steelers ground game in check through the first half. The Steelers were held to 15 yards on 9 carries during the entire first half. But Ben Roethlisberger was able to complete 11 of 16 passes for 214 yards in the air, with Antonio Brown accounting for 4 receptions and 137 yards. Spencer Adkins (2 tackles), Jonathan Babineaux (2 tackles, 1 sack), Kroy Biermann (3 tackles), Dominique Franks (3 tackles), Brent Griems (2 tackles), Curtis Lofton (2 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (3 tackles), Chris Owens (3 tackles), Mike Peterson (3 tackles), Shann Schillinger (1 tackle, 1 forced fumble), Vance Walker (2 tackles, 1 sack), Sean Weatherspoon (3 tackles), and Coy Wire (3 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons did not get off to a good start, with a 51-yard return by Antonio Brown on the opening kickoff that set up the Steelers in Falcon territory at the 35-yard line. Three plays later and Rashard Mendenhall romped into the endzone untouched on a 1-yard score. The Falcons did little on the ensuing drive, with a 12-yard completion to Roddy White being their only significant movement before punting. The Falcons defense held with John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux providing pressure to sack Ben Roethlisberger on 3rd down to force a Steelers punt on the next drive. On the next drive, Ryan had a tipped pass picked off at midfield by Lawrence Timmons who raced downfield looking to score before Harry Douglas tripped him up at the Falcons own 4-yard line. The Falcons defense held once again, forcing the Steelers to settle for a 19-yard field goal. The Falcons offense finally got in gear on the next drive with Ryan connecting with multiple receivers to get the Falcons down to the Steelers 5-yard line. But then Ryan was high on a throw to a wide open Harry Douglas in the endzone, then overthrew Tony Gonzalez on the next play when he was pressured. This meant the Falcons had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Bryant to get on the scoreboard for the first time, cutting the Steelers lead to seven points. The Falcons were able to convert on two third downs on their next offensive drive to get once more into the redzone. This time the Falcons took advantage with Ryan hitting White on a 10-yard scoring strike to tie the game 10-10. However, three plays later the Steelers scored on a 77-yard strike to Brown on a busted coverage to retake the lead. The next drive, the Falcons took a shot deep at midfield, but Julio Jones dropped the well-thrown Ryan pass in the endzone. The Falcons recovered and moved the ball down the field but had a 2-yard toss to Gonzalez in the endzone nullified by an offensive pass interference call. Two plays later, Bryant hit his second field goal of the night from 30 yards. The Steelers would score on their next drive once more with Ben Roethlisberger connecting again with Antonio Brown for a 44-yard bomb with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. The Falcons went into their 2-minute offense and were successful at moving the ball down the field. But ultimately settled for Bryant’s third field goal on the night from 46 yards to take the game into halftime with a score of 24-16.

In the second half, the Falcons and Steelers exchanged drives as each offense tended to focus on trying to move the ball on the ground. Rodgers had a combined 30 yards on 5 carries on the Falcons two series of the third quarter. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, the Falcons drive was cut short just shy of the redzone as Chris Redman threw an interception that was returned 95 yards for a score by Crezdon Butler. Redman followed that up by only completing 3 of his next 10 passes . The Steelers finally got things going offensively on their next drive with Dennis Dixon leading the team downfield to get a 27-yard field goal. Philip Sylvester fumbled on the first play of the next series, thus ending the game as the Steelers got the ball back with 1:39 left on the clock and knelt down three times as time expired.

Next week the Falcons will close out their preseason schedule against the Baltimore Ravens at home on Thursday night. Typically teams play almost exclusively their backups. The Falcons will be forced to cut down their roster to 80 players by Tuesday. Their roster count current sits at 85. The remaining reserves that have not solidified a roster spot will likely get long looks against the Ravens as all teams are required to trim their rosters down to 53 players a week from tonight.

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Aaron Freeman
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