Even with the 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 5-9 Atlanta Falcons can still win the NFC South by winning their next two games.
It was a home game for the Falcons, but it certainly didn’t seem like it. Steelers fans are exceptional travelers, and Sunday’s game was no different. Terrible Towels filled the Georgia Dome and chants of “HEATH” filled the Falcons’ home turf each time Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller caught a pass.
For the second week in a row, the Falcons offense started slowly and had to claw its way back into the game.
With Julio Jones being held out from a hip injury he suffered against the Green Bay Packers the week before, Atlanta’s offense didn’t look nearly as explosive as it did in Lambeau Field.
The Steelers (9-5) built up a 13-0 lead – with the touchdown coming off a 52-interception return by William Gay – before the Falcons were able to put points on the board: a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester.
By the time halftime rolled around, Pittsburgh held a 20-7 lead over the Falcons.
As it did against the Packers, Atlanta’s offense picked up steam in the second half. The Falcons were in control in the third quarter, but when it was all said and done, they only had six points to show for it.
Despite the fact Atlanta’s offense was moving with ease, the coaching staff opted for 28- and 22-yard field goals to cut the Steelers’ deficit to seven.
Pittsburgh extended its lead to 14 in the fourth quarter with a 13-yard touchdown run by Le’Veon Bell. Atlanta responded with a touchdown drive of its own that was capped off with a four-yard touchdown reception by Roddy White.
That’s the final time either team would score.
The Falcons appeared to have stopped the Steelers for one last chance on offense, but an illegal contact penalty called on Desmond Trufant kept the Pittsburgh drive going to allow them to chew out the remaining time left.
In Jones’ absence, it was up to Harry Douglas to step up. He responded by catching 10 passes for 131 yards – the most by any receiver in the game.
Hester also contributed with five receptions for 85 yards and a score.
Atlanta managed to keep Bell in check, holding him to just 47 yards on the ground. But he did make it into the end zone twice and attributed for 72 yards in the passing game.
The Falcons go on the road to face the New Orleans Saints next Sunday. A loss there pretty much guarantees Atlanta won’t make it to the postseason.
As it has been for much of the season, the officiating was absolutely atrocious. Matt Ryan was hit hard on sack, and the hit elicited a penalty flag. Except it shouldn’t have — it was a hard hit, but not an illegal hit. Now take this: Ryan scrambled on a play, slid, and was hit by a Steelers defender well after the play was over. That was a play that easily should’ve drew a flag — but it did not. That’s just a glimpse of the inconsistent, incorrect officiating that went on all game and has occurred all season.