NFL teams that score defensive touchdowns win games approximately 80 percent of the time.
But when Will Gay returns an interception for a touchdown, that number jumps to 100 percent.
Gay set a team record with his third interception return for a touchdown this season, and all three have helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win games.
* His 33-yard return helped beat the Indianapolis Colts, 51-34.
* His 28-yard return helped beat the Tennessee Titans, 27-24.
* And on Sunday, his 52-yard return helped the Steelers beat the Atlanta Falcons, 27-20.
“It was huge,” said linebacker Lawrence Timmons. “That was the story of the game. That got our energy up, too. I felt from that point on, it was nothing that could stop us. Will Gay got the touchdown. The pick was amazing. The blocking, everybody blocking and setting up the wall for him, that pretty much says how the game went for us.”
The Steelers had just taken a 6-0 lead on Shaun Suisham's second field goal of the first quarter and Devin Hester had returned the ensuing kickoff to the Atlanta 38. So the Falcons had decent field position when Matt Ryan dropped back for the first play of the second quarter.
With Troy Polamalu and Jason Worilds blitzing, along with the Steelers' three defensive linemen, Gay and left cornerback Brice McCain were 12 yards off the line just outside opposite hashes, and dropped back even further at the snap.
With free safety Mike Mitchell playing deep center field, it wasn't the Steelers' traditional Cover-3 alignment and Gay was able to cut underneath Falcons receiver Harry Douglas, who was running a post pattern over the middle.
Gay leaped to pluck the ball out of the air at the Steelers 48 and began running to the left sideline. He got a block from Timmons on the Falcons' tight end and then cut back to the middle of the field, where he received another key block from Worilds, who flattened Ryan and opened a large path for Gay to score.
It gave the Steelers 13-0 lead and the Falcons never came closer than six points.
“It was one of those plays where they played a funky coverage and the guy just jumped the route,” said Douglas.
“It was a very critical play,” said Falcons Coach Mike Smith. “We had a nice kickoff return, had good field position. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the play, they did. We’ve got to be able to get that guy on the ground. It’s not just the interception; we’ve got to be able to get the guy on the ground and give our defense an opportunity to go out there and play. That was a critical play in the game.”
“Will has been around a long time,” said Mike Tomlin. “He is one of those savvy veteran guys. More than anything he does a great job of staying on script. When he picks the ball off he hits the near sideline, he has good grip, good ball security, he runs out of real estate, he is willing to cut it back, he doesn’t make things up, he stays to script so the guys that are blocking for him know where he is going to be. And I think that allows us to work together to maximize the opportunity.”
The touchdown set a franchise record of three interception returns by a player in one season. The previous mark of two was held by six players: Chad Scott (2001), Dewayne Washington (1998), Rod Woodson (1994), Sam Washington (1984), Jack Butler (1954) and Tony Compagno (1947).
It was Gay's fourth career interception return for a touchdown. He returned one for 21 yards last year to seal a 27-11 win at Cleveland. He's now one touchdown away from tying the franchise's career record held by Woodson, who also holds the NFL record with 12 in his multi-team career.
So the Steelers are 4-0 on the backs of defensive touchdowns in this 9-5 season.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” said Gay. “That was a big win against a division leader. That’s something that you try to get in December football.”