Last night the Steelers beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-16, in the third preseason game, or as coaches like to call it: the dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener.
The Steelers did it with an offense that continues to show signs of becoming a juggernaut in the Bradshaw-to-Swann-and-Stallworth vein.
While Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan picked apart the revolving door of cornerbacks the Steelers were forced to employ last night, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 214 yards in the first half to forge a 24-16 halftime lead.
Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 77 and 44 yards to Antonio Brown, who continued his spectacular preseason with 4 catches for 137 yards.
Brown's touchdown catches occurred on the second and third possessions of the second quarter. The 77-yarder, on third-and-6, gave the Steelers a 17-10 lead. Brown caught the pass over the middle at the 50 and sped away from the stunned Falcons' secondary.
The Falcons answered with a field goal, but on the Steelers' next possession Roethlisberger dropped back on third-and-10 and found Brown in the end zone 44 yards down the field for a 24-13 lead.
Brown's 51-yard return of the opening kickoff had set up the Steelers' first touchdown. Two Roethlisberger bootleg passes to tight end David Johnson moved the Steelers to the Atlanta 1, from where Rashard Mendenhall ran untouched through right guard for the score.
Brown returned four kickoffs for 109 yards in rolling up 247 yards of total offense in the first half.
In three preseason games, Brown, the second-year wide receiver, has 9 receptions for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"It's a blessing," said Brown. "I'll just continue to get better and improve day-in and day-out. You can see the results just pan out."
"He's a really good football player," said Roethlisberger. "He's got good instincts."
Roethlisberger played a half and was done for the night after completing 11 of 16 passes (151.0 passer rating) against the NFL's 22nd-ranked pass defense from a year ago. He was pleased with the showing, but he wanted even more.
"It's still another performance where I'm happy that we scored but I am still a little disappointed that we haven't done as well as I think we should have," Roethlisberger said. "We had a couple breakdowns, some different things here and there that have stalled us on offense. I feel like we're doing some good things but we've still got some work to do.
"That's a good thing," he added. "I'd rather do that than be 100 percent right."
The Falcons played without cornerback Dunta Robinson, but the Steelers played without both of their starting corners, Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, and then lost replacement Keenan Lewis to a knee injury when he broke up a pass in the end zone to Roddy White. Lewis was replaced by Crezdon Butler as Donovan Warren replaced Butler as the nickel back.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 13 passes to starting receivers White and Julio Jones for 160 yards, but the Falcons could manage only one touchdown. They settled for three field goals in the first half, while Ryan was also intercepted by Lawrence Timmons in the flat midway through the first quarter.
Timmons grabbed the deflected pass out of the air and ran 44 yards to the Atlanta 4, from where the Steelers settled for 19-yard Shaun Suisham field goal.
Butler made sure the Steelers didn't have to settle for a field goal after his fourth-quarter interception. Butler intercepted Chris Redman and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown. It not only gave the Steelers a 31-16 lead, but most likely locked up a roster spot for Butler, the second-year cornerback.
On the injury front, the Steelers lost backup quarterback Byron Leftwich with a broken left arm. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Leftwich would be out for "an extended period of time."
The only other serious injury was a torn pectoral muscle suffered by rookie tight end Miguel Chavis.
The Steelers also lost Lewis (knee), center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle), Casey Hampton (right elbow) and rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) for parts of the game. Tomlin said he believes most of those injuries are not serious. Lewis said he expects to play Thursday in the preseason finale, while Pouncey walked without a limp in the locker room.