Steelers Notebook: Defense coaxes opportunity to knock
Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden upends Atlanta's Jerious Norwood in the fourth quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
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For a while there Sunday afternoon the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons was looking a lot like many games for the defense last season. The offense handed the defense a lead in the fourth quarter, and the defense allowed a tying score.
But when the game was on the line the defense created two opportunities for the offense to win the game.
The first came with 1:45 remaining in regulation when Troy Polamalu made a tremendous individual effort to intercept Matt Ryan at the Falcons' 30-yard line. But that opportunity went by the wayside when Jeff Reed missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt.
The second opportunity came when the defense forced Atlanta to punt from deep in its territory on its first possession of overtime. The Steelers took over at the 50, and scored on their first play when Rashard Mendenhall ran for the winning touchdown.
"I'm very happy with the way we finished the game, stopping them down there and having the big run at the end," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
"It's a great start for us. We like starting [the overtime] in those types of situations. We have a lot of veteran guys on defense that have been in situations like that before. We understand if we keep points off the board we'll give our team a chance to win."
Five times last season the Steelers held leads in the fourth quarter and lost games. It happened again Sunday when Atlanta drove 64 yards on 13 plays and kicked the tying field goal with 3:24 remaining after Reed had given the Steelers the lead with 8:54 left.
"The chips were against us there at the end," Keisel said. "Troy made a great play, and you think you just kick the field goal, and you win. Sometimes that doesn't happen, and you have to go back out there and make a stop. That was big."
Reed kicked the longest field goal in Heinz Field history when he booted a 52-yarder in the first quarter, but he was not in the mood to celebrate afterward because he missed the potential winning kick with 43 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It's the last one that bugs me," Reed said of his 40-yard attempt that sailed wide right. "I crushed it, perfect kick. It started right down the middle and knuckled off to the right at the last minute. I can't really explain anything. I can't blame the field. I can't blame anything. I thought it was a great kick, and I didn't make it."
For the day, Reed was 3 for 5 on field-goal attempts. He also made field goals from 36 and 34 yards and missed a 55-yard attempt near the end of the first half.
Reed almost was 2 for 5. His 34-yarder with 8:54 remaining barely made it inside the right upright.
"I'm glad we came away with a win," Reed said. "I'm glad we're 1-0, but there won't be a lot of celebrating for me."
Two of the biggest plays of overtime were calls made by the officials.
The Falcons were called for two holding penalties in overtime. The first came on the kickoff when Anthony Madison was held by Ovie Mughelli. Instead of starting their possession at the 18 they had to start at the 9.
The second holding call came when Falcons tackle Sam Baker tackled James Harrison on a third-and-7 from the 24. The penalty wiped out a completion to Jason Snelling that would have been a first down.
Harrison, who was credited with nine tackles and one sack, said he was surprised the official blew his whistle.
"Kind of," he said. "But it can't get any worse than tackling me. There were a couple of other times when they didn't call it, so I really wasn't expecting them to call it then."
• The Steelers and Falcons played a third consecutive game that went into overtime. In 2002, the two teams played to a 34-34 tie. In '06, the Steelers lost a 41-38 decision in overtime.
• The Steelers had lost seven of their previous nine games that went into overtime.
• The Steelers won a season opener in overtime for the second consecutive season. Last year they beat Tennessee, 13-10.
• Dennis Dixon has started two games and both have gone into overtime. Dixon was the quarterback Nov. 29 when the Ravens beat the Steelers, 20-17.
• The Steelers improved to 21-16-2 all time in overtime games.
The Steelers lost two starters for part of the game. Nose tackle Casey Hampton left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return. Offensive tackle Max Starks left the game in the fourth quarter with a high sprain of his left ankle. Starks was seen leaving the locker room on crutches with a walking boot on his foot.
Jonathan Scott took Starks' place at left tackle. Chris Hoke and Ziggy Hood filled in for Hampton.
Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton thought the Falcons' defense played a good game. Except for one play.
"As a defense, we played good the entire game," said Lofton, who led the team with 11 tackles. "Then [in overtime] they make a play at the end, and it makes you sick.
"It was a roller coaster, ups and downs. When you're down, that's when you have to come through and make a big play and get off the field and get the ball back to the offense. We didn't do that today."
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez made the 1,000th reception of his illustrious 14-year career in the third quarter. It was a 21-yard catch down the middle that advanced the ball to the Steelers' 20. A short while later, Matt Bryant kicked a field goal to give Atlanta a 6-3 lead.
Gonzalez, who began his career in Kansas City, is the first tight end in NFL history to record 1,000 receptions.
First Published September 13, 2010 12:00 am