The Falcons have never won a football game in Pittsburgh and didn’t come close on Sunday.
The injury-ravaged defense continued to be a major liability, the offensive line collapsed and the special teams allowed another blocked punt as the Steelers pummeled the Falcons 41-17 before 64,781 jubilant towel-waving fans on Sunday at Heinz Field.
“We fought, but we didn’t do a good enough job, pretty much,” said defensive end Vic Beasley.
Running back James Conner, who’s filling in for Le’Veon Bell while he’s holding out, ran for 110 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns to power the Steelers’ offense. He added four catches for 75 yards and wide receiver Antonio Brown caught six passes for 101 yards and touchdowns.
“That’s the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “They are a run-first team. They are always going to be a run-first team.”
The Steelers improved to 2-2-1 while the Falcons dropped to 1-4. The Steelers avoided starting 0-3 at home for the first time since 1986. The Falcons are now 0-7-1 in Pittsburgh.
It was only 13-10 at halftime, but things got away from the Falcons in the second half as the offense went cold and the special teams had another breakdown.
“That was a time for us to go now establish, we had been talking a bit for a good while about owning some of these moments,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I thought that was the time to go and put us a good drive together to get rolling. ... Our message was about us attacking and for us to finish with only one score (in the second) half, was not the attacking we were looking for.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 26 of 38 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown, was under duress. He was sacked six times and hit 11 times as he finished with a 99.1 passer rating.
“We are certainly going to take a good look at that and (see) how that happened,” Quinn said. “Some where on play action. ... We are going to take a good look at that and see where some of the issues where. It wasn’t just in one spot or with one player.”
Here are five things we learned from the loss:
1. Defense is playing hurt. With four starters out, the defense stabilized itself after a shaky start and then collapsed late.
After giving up touchdowns on the first two possessions of the game, the Falcons defense began to settle down.
Before getting a stop in the second quarter, the defense had allowed points on 12 of the previous 15 possessions, including 11 touchdowns.
Free safety Damontae Kazee stopped Pittsburgh’s scoring threat right before halftime with an interception.
On a 28-yard screen pass to Conner in the third quarter, Brooks Reed should have stopped the play for a 5-yard gain. But three other players missed tackles before Kazee stopped the play.
“It was just the little things that were hurting us from not getting off the field on third downs,” Reed said. “Penalties and a couple of missed tackles here and there. The little things just add up to where big moments in the game decided it.”
2. Penalty-filled contest. The Steelers and the Falcons entered the game as two of the most penalized teams in the NFL and they didn’t change.
The Steelers entered the game with an NFL-high 42 penalties and the Falcons were seventh at 32.
In addition to Pittsburgh, only Philadelphia (35), Jacksonville (35), Indianapolis (34), Houston (34) and Kansas City (34) had more accepted penalties than the Falcons.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Falcons had seven penalties for 75 yards and the Steelers had seven for 58.
Rookies were a part of the problem.
Falcons rookie wide receiver Russell Gage had a fair catch interference penalty in the second quarter. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun had a ridiculous unnecessary roughness penalty in the third quarter.
“It was uncharacteristic for him for those who met him and have been around him,” Quinn said. “I’m not sure where that came from.”
Also, the Falcons had two procedural penalties. An illegal formation on a wildcat play and a defensive offside by Vic Beasley as their first two penalties.
Trailing 34-17 in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a 12-man on the field penalty.
3. Jones vs. Brown. Perhaps the two best receivers of the last decade, Julio Jones and Brown, did not have spectacular games.
It was the first time the two played in an NFL game together. In the previous meeting between the teams in 2014, Jones did not play.
Jones didn’t get his first catch in the game until 13:34 remained. They were down 17 points by the time he got the ball.
Jones finished with five catches for 62 yards.
4. Return of Freeman. The return of running back Devonta Freeman didn’t help much.
Freeman rushed eight times for 32 yards, including a 20-yard gain. He caught two passes for nine yards.
Freeman missed the previous three games with a knee contusion.
5. Injury report. Falcons defensive tackle Takk McKinley left the game in the second quarter with cramps. He later returned.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant was evaluated for a concussion in the third quarter. The Steelers took advantage of his absence and tossed a touchdown pass to Brown with rookie Isaiah Oliver in coverage.
The 9-yard touchdown pass gave the Steelers a 20-10 lead with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
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