The Reportcard: Steelers 15, Falcons 9 OT
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Dennis Dixon might not have won the game, but he didn't lose it, either, even though he had several potential interceptions dropped. After a shaky start and a bunch of low throws, he finished 18 of 26 for 236 yards with one pick. Give him kudos for a 52-yard pass to Mike Wallace to set up a field goal and back-to-back completions of 24 and 25 yards to Hines Ward to set up the go-ahead FG.
Considering that the Falcons stacked the line of scrimmage to take away the run, Rashard Mendenhall did a good job grinding out tough yards, turning nothing into 2-, 3- and 4-yard gains. But he made the biggest play of all -- a 50-yard walk-off TD run in overtime. Mendenhall finished with 120 yards on 22 carries. Isaac Redman converted three short-yardage chances until late in the fourth quarter.
Hines Ward not only had his club-record 26th 100-yard receiving game, he threw one of the big blocks on Mendenhall's 50-yard TD run in overtime. So did TE David Johnson, who lined at fullback on the play. Ward's back-to-back catches of 24 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter were huge. And so was Mike Wallace's 52-yard catch in the third quarter that set up Jeff Reed's 36-yard field goal.
OK, Dixon was sacked three times, but, for the most part, he had decent protection. But two of the sacks came late in the fourth quarter after LT Max Starks went out with a high-ankle sprain. The Steelers finished with 143 yards rushing, thanks to Mendenhall's OT heroics, but their ability to get some movement up front and gain yards allowed them to keep the pressure off Dixon.
The Steelers had to play without Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) for 2 1/2 quarters but still held the Falcons to 58 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Their goal was to stop RB Michael Turner, and they did, holding him to 42 yards on 19 carries and not allowing him a run longer than 7 yards. Their biggest achievement was creating space for linebackers to make tackles.
Inside LBs Lawrence Timmons (11 tackles) and James Farrior (8) were outstanding against the run, stuffing the middle and not allowing the Falcons a run longer than 7 yards. Timmons had nine solo tackles, including three for losses, OLB LaMarr Woodley extended his sack streak to nine consecutive games. And James Harrison had a big sack near midfield in the third quarter.
The Falcons were intent on throwing to WR Roddy White nearly every time he lined against CB Bryant McFadden. Of Matt Ryan's 44 attempts, 23 were intended for White, who finished with 13 catches for 111 yards -- tying for most catches by an opponent in Steelers history. But the Steelers finally switched to zone coverage on the play that resulted in Troy Polamalu's interception.
Jeff Reed, who kicked three field goals, is the NFL's most accurate PK since '07. But he missed a 40-yarder with 39 seconds left that would have won the game in regulation -- one of the few times he has failed to deliver in that situation. The Steelers got nothing out of their return game, but coverage was good. And Daniel Sepulveda's best punt (55) came when the Steelers needed it most.
Give Dick LeBeau credit for making a defensive change that resulted in Polamalu's interception, even though Reed missed a potential winning FG. Also give offensive coordinator Bruce Arians credit for trying to ease Dixon into the game with half-rolls and short throws. It's tough to fault Mike Tomlin for trying a 55-yard FG near the end of the first half, especially in a close game.
First Published September 13, 2010 12:00 am