"Young Money" cashed in for the Steelers Saturday night in a big way, but another injury to backup quarterback Byron Leftwich and a slew of others tempered their 34-16 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field.
Antonio Brown, part of the young money receiving corps, caught two long touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger and set up a third by returning the opening kickoff 51 yards.
Leftwich was scheduled to become the No. 2 quarterback again this season. The seriousness of his left elbow injury was not immediately determined. He flung his helmet to the turf and screamed in pain as he walked off the field.
It was not the only injury of the game. Center Maurkice Pouncey left early with a left ankle injury and nose tackle Casey Hampton also departed with a right elbow injury. Cornerback Keenan Lewis left early with a knee injury. The Steelers did not immediately provide more injury details for any of them.
It was a game of big plays as well as injuries. Brown caught touchdown passes of 77 and 44 yards to go with his 51-yard punt return in the first half. Cornerback Crezdon Butler returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"He's a really good football player," Roethlisberger said of Brown. "He's got good instincts."
Brown's kickoff return set up a short drive that ended with Rashard Mendenhall scoring from the 1. Brown then showed off his dazzling skills as a receiver in the second quarter. He caught a pass on the fly from Roethlisberger at his 45 and smoked two trailing Falcons the next 55 yards to complete a 77-yard touchdown route.
Next, he caught another perfectly thrown pass from Roethlisberger in the back middle of the end zone from 44 yards out for a score. On both scores, he beat cornerback Brent Grimes.
Brown has had a sensational preseason. He entered the game as the team's leading receiver with five receptions, 93 yards and a touchdown. Add four more receptions for 137 yards and two more scores against the Falcons.
"I'll just continue to get better and improve day in and day out," Brown said. "You can see the results just pan out."
The Steelers drafted Brown in the sixth round in 2010, three rounds after they drafted another wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders. Those two join Mike Wallace as the young money crew of receivers who have teamed with old hands Hines Ward and newly acquired Jerricho Cotchery.
Roethlisberger has had one of his best preseasons. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 214 yards and those two touchdowns against the Falcons. That makes him 21 of 31 for 361 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 146.6 passer rating, nearly as high as you can get.
But he is not satisfied.
"It's still another performance, in my opinion, where I'm happy that we scored but I still am a little disappointed that we haven't done as well as I think we should have. We had a couple breakdowns, some different things here and there that have stalled us as an offense."
Nevertheless, the first-team offense behind Roethlisberger has scored five touchdowns and one field goal in its past eight possessions.
Leftwich and the entire second-team offense opened the second half. On third down, Leftwich scrambled to his right and as he was tackled, he stuck his left arm out to break his fall, injuring it.
It's the second preseason in a row that Leftwich has been injured. He was supposed to start the first four games in 2010 while Roethlisberger served an NFL suspension, but an injured knee in the final preseason game allowed Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch to play in the first four games.
Dixon came on as the next quarterback, with 12:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Newly minted $50 million linebacker Lawrence Timmons set his offense up for another touchdown when he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 44 yards to the4. Instead, the Steelers could only manage a field goal of 19 yards by Shaun Suisham.
The Steelers defense then looked like Joel Hanrahan in Cincinnati, blowing the save. The Falcons scored on consecutive drives of 75 yards and 38 yards. The former produced a 23-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. The second tied the score when Ryan hit Roddy White with a 10-yard pass in the back of the end zone between Troy Polamalu and James Farrior.
"I think we should have finished a little better," Timmons said.
But Brown scored twice on long passes against the Falcons, who responded meekly with field goals and the Steelers led, 24-16, at halftime.
• Game: Steelers at Carolina Panthers in final preseason game, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
• When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
• TV: KDKA.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org