Falcons can’t stop Steelers at the Georgia Dome

Atlantafalcons.com

The NFL regular season is winding down and the Falcons are in the thick of the NFC South race. And in order for them to win the divisional crown, they will need to beat New Orleans and Carolina, which are the two final games of the year. But before that happens, the Falcons had to face the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. And despite limiting Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to less than 50 yards, the Steelers defeated the Falcons 27-20.

“We didn’t start fast on offense,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “We were hit-and-miss throughout the day. Consistency is something we have to continue to get better at.”

The Steelers were able to jump to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter with a pair of field goals by Shaun Suisham. But at the start of the second quarter, the Steelers made it 13-0 when Matt Ryan’s pass was picked off by William Gay and returned for a 52-yard touchdown.

“It was a very critical play,” Smith said. “We have to get [Gay] off the ground. It’s not just the interception, we have to get him off the ground and give our defense an opportunity to go out there and play.”

Ryan was able to redeem himself later in the quarter when the Falcons put together a nine-play 85-yard drive which ended with a Ryan 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester. But the Steelers got the last laugh in the first half when they went 80 yards in less than four minutes, and the drive ended with a Le’Veon Bell 1-yard touchdown run.

The Falcons cut the lead to 10 to start the third quarter when Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field goal. Bryant kicked another field goal (22 yards) to cut the lead to seven later in the third.

The Steelers were able to increase their lead to 14 when they put together another 80-yard drive which ended with a Bell 13-yard score. However, the Falcons cut the lead to seven when they put together an 84-yard drive which ended with a Ryan 4-yard touchdown to Roddy White. And with that score, White became the all-time franchise leader for touchdowns scored with 62.

“I really didn’t think about it,” White said. “I was focused on the game and trying to get us a win. I want us to get to the playoffs have a chance to make it to the Super Bowl.”

That would be the last time the Falcons would put points on the board because they went three-and-out on their next series and the Steelers were able to get two first downs on the ensuing series and ran out the clock.

The Ryan interception proved to be costly, but the red zone efficiency was the reason the Falcons came up short. While the Steelers were 2-of-3 in the red zone, the Falcons were 2-of-4 and had to settle for field goals when they could not get six points.

Another thing that also hurt the Falcons was not having Julio Jones on the field. Jones, who was leading the NFL in receiving yards, was held out of Sunday’s game because of a hip injury.

“We had a plan, and we had some opportunities to make some plays in the first half of the game there in the first quarter,” Smith said. “We just didn’t make them.”

The Falcons defense was solid overall. They held Bell to 47 yards rushing on 20 carries and limited to the Steelers to 398 yards. But 360 passing yards by Ben Roethlisberger and the 55 percent third-down conversion was key in the Steelers win.

“They did hurt us passing the football,” Smith said. “That’s a very good football team that’s gone out and thrown the football around. We’ve got to be better in defending the pass.”

The Falcons next opponent is the New Orleans Saints next Sunday at the Superdome. This is a must-win for the Falcons because the Saints and Carolina are also in play for the divisional crown despite the below average records. So it’s safe to say the playoffs start now.

“I think it’s going to be a very interesting two weeks, not only for the NFC South, but all across the NFL,” Smith said. “That’s what the schedule makers want. I think they have done a hell of a job doing it.”

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