Final Score: Pittsburgh 15, Atlanta 9 (OT)
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - Rashard Mendenhall broke off a 50-yard game-
winning touchdown run on the Steelers' first play of overtime as Pittsburgh
persevered for a 15-9 win over Atlanta in a defensive battle at Heinz Field.
After the Falcons faltered on the first possession of OT, Michael Koenen's
poor 36-yard punt from the 14-yard-line gave the Steelers prime field
Mendenhall wasted little time in making it count, bursting through a hole off
right tackle sealed off by a textbook block from tight end David Johnson on
his way to the end zone.
"We were in an eight-man spacing and we mis-fit it. I thought that we did a
good job up until that point. I thought we weathered the surge in terms of
their running game," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. "When you mis-fit in
eight-man spacing, there is a chance for an explosive play. Unacceptable
Mendenhall ended with 120 yards on 22 carries while Hines Ward came up huge
for Dennis Dixon with six catches for 108 yards.
"All day on the line we were creating seams in the run game. You have to be
patient, we knew at some point something was going to open up and it did in
overtime," Mendenhall said.
Dixon, making only his second career NFL start, proved an efficient
game-manager in the absence of a suspended Ben Roethlisberger. He completed
18-of-26 passes for 236 yards with an interception as Pittsburgh (1-0)
extended its streak of wins in opening-season games to a league-best eight.
It was also their eighth consecutive home-opening win, good for third longest
in the NFL.
"I got a little over-excited in the first half. I'm just happy to have someone
like Hines Ward...someone on the offensive side to calm me down. The second
half, it became easier for me," Dixon said.
Matt Ryan was 27-of-44 passing for 252 yards with a fourth-quarter
interception. Michael Turner was held to 42 yards on 19 touches for Atlanta
(0-1), which is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in
Roddy White totaled a career-high 13 receptions for 111 yards in the loss, the
Falcons' first on kickoff weekend under third-year coach Smith.
It was a game of field goals for 60 minutes with Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed and
the Falcons' Matt Bryant hitting three each in regulation.
Both offenses found a better rhythm in the fourth quarter with the game tied
Pittsburgh embarked on its best drive of the game less than a minute into the
period to go in front. Dixon found Ward for big gains of 24 and 25 yards in
the middle of the field on back-to-back plays. The possession lost momentum
inside the 20, though, and Reed capped the trek with a go-ahead 34-yard field
Atlanta also waited until late to put together its best series, responding
with a 13-play, 64-yard drive that ended in a 23-yard Bryant field goal with
3:24 to play.
A pair of sacks on second and third down forced the Steelers to punt it back
to the visitors with 1:45 to go but they had the ball back in short order.
On the first play, Ryan floated a ball toward the right sideline for White and
Troy Polamalu snuck in for the interception while dragging both feet inbounds.
Pittsburgh took over at the Atlanta 30 but couldn't do anything with
it and Reed set up for a 40-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining. It
sailed wide right and the game went to overtime.
Dixon came out firing on the first drive of the game, completing all four of
his passes for 22 yards during an 11-play drive. However, it stalled at the
Atlanta 34 and Reed made good on a 52-yard field goal for an early 3-0 edge.
The Steelers' defense clamped down on the visitors in the first quarter,
holding them to a measly 16 yards and two first downs.
Atlanta finally showed an ability to move the ball on its first series of the
second quarter but Ryan overthrew a streaking Tony Gonzalez along the right
hash marks on 3rd-and-9.
Dixon led the hosts from their own seven and hit Ward for a 21-yard gain
across the middle to get inside the Falcon 40. The former Oregon standout made
his first big mistake two plays later, though, with veteran linebacker Mike
Peterson plucking a pass in the flat intended for Heath Miller.
Atlanta was able to get into field goal range for Bryant with the clock
winding under two minutes left, but the 46-yard attempt sailed wide right.
Reed attempted a 55-yard field goal with 22 seconds left and hit the right
upright. An aggressive Ryan completed two quick passes netting 24 yards and
Bryant was able to connect on a 49-yarder just before halftime to leave it a
3-3 game at intermission.
A 13-play drive by Atlanta opened the second half but again the Steeler
defense held and Bryant was forced to kick a 39-yard field goal less than five
On the next series, John Abraham's sack on second down forced 3rd-and-long and
the hosts had to settle for Reed's game-tying 36-yard boot.
Gonzalez hauled in career reception No. 1,000, becoming the first tight end in
NFL history to do so. He ended with two catches for 35 yards...Ward hit a pair
of milestones, becoming the first Steeler and 24th player in NFL history to
surpass 11,000 yards. He also surpassed 900 career receptions, only the 12th
player in league annals to reach the mark...The Steelers have amassed an
impressive 20-5 record at home during head coach Mike Tomlin's three seasons
at the helm. Pittsburgh has not lost a home opener since a 30-17 setback to
Oakland in 2002...Mike Wallace, filling the void left with Santonio Holmes'
departure for the New York Jets, gained 62 yards on two receptions...Both
teams struggled on third down, with the Steelers converting only 4-of-14
attempts and Atlanta 6-of-16...Pittsburgh left tackle Max Starks left the game
late in the third quarter with an apparent left ankle injury. He had trouble
putting weight on the leg and was to have X-rays after the game...Steelers
nose tackle Casey Hampton also left the game with a hamstring injury in the
second quarter. Neither player returned to the game...The Steelers have a
decisive 12-2-1 edge in the all-time series...Pittsburgh has allowed only one
individual 100-yard rusher over its last 35 regular-season contests...The
Falcons were without capable wideout Michael Jenkins because of a right
shoulder injury incurred during a scrimmage in August.
09/12 21:14:23 ET
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