Mike Tomlin remained steadfast in his choice to field quarterback Kenny Pickett and other key Pittsburgh players, even as Atlanta’s coach Arthur Smith opted for his substitutes.
In my perspective, engaging in practice without a genuine challenge is reminiscent of shadow boxing,” Tomlin remarked.
Pickett and the Steelers swiftly asserted their dominance.
Pickett spearheaded two touchdown drives, conclusively demonstrating his and Pittsburgh’s starters’ readiness for actual games. The Steelers triumphed over the Falcons with a commanding 24-0 victory on Thursday evening, culminating in the final preseason matchup for both teams.
Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren added touchdown runs to cap the exclusive drives commanded by Pickett, who remarkably completed all four of his passes for 86 yards during his brief yet impactful appearance. Pickett led the Steelers (3-0) to touchdowns in every single one of their five preseason possessions.
Pickett expressed, “This serves as evidence that the dedication we invested has yielded results in the preseason.”
Contrary to Smith’s decision to bench his starters, Tomlin asserted that his strategy to stick with Pickett and the offensive starters for two series remained unaffected.
“I’m not concerned with others’ actions,” Tomlin affirmed. “We will continue following our approach.”
The sophomore quarterback initiated the opening drive with passes of 33 and 35 yards to Diontae Johnson and George Pickens respectively, prior to Harris’s 1-yard touchdown. Pickens, the former standout from the University of Georgia, remarkably secured the sideline catch within the 5-yard line despite tight coverage from Falcons cornerback Natrone Brooks.
- The 20 Best NFL Running Backs of All Time
- The Most Instagrammable NFL Stadiums in America
- The 20 Best NFL Wide Receivers of All Time
Of Johnson and Pickens, Pickett praised, “Both are exceptional players. I ensured I played my role by delivering accurate passes to them.”
Pickett connected with Harris for a 16-yard pass, setting the stage for Warren’s 8-yard touchdown run to cap Pittsburgh’s second drive.
Atlanta’s backup players were outmatched on both ends of the field against Pittsburgh’s first-string units. Nevertheless, Smith affirmed his team’s confidence heading into the regular season.
“I believe our team exudes a sense of impressiveness across all aspects,” Smith stated, acknowledging that the Steelers’ early big plays and a late red-zone turnover by the Falcons created an unfavorable scenario.
With quarterback Desmond Ridder observing from the sidelines, Taylor Heinicke, the backup, faced a sack by T.J. Watt, resulting in a 7-yard loss on Atlanta’s initial possession. Linebacker Elandon Roberts dropped running back Godwin Igwebuike for a 4-yard loss on Atlanta’s opening snap.
After establishing a 14-0 lead over two drives, Pickett was substituted by Mitch Trubisky. Backup running back Anthony McFarland Jr. contributed a 31-yard run, setting up Chris Boswell’s 38-yard field goal in Pittsburgh’s third possession.
McFarland’s 5-yard scoring run further extended the lead to 24-0 in the second quarter.
Pittsburgh’s initial punt arrived with less than two minutes left in the half.
The Falcons (1-1-1) failed to capitalize on a scoring opportunity in the third quarter, as running back Carlos Washington Jr.’s fumble was recovered by Steelers’ free safety Kenny Robinson on Pittsburgh’s 8-yard line.
- The Top 14 Best NFL Fan Traditions Ranked
- The 10 Best NFL Players to Retire Early – The Gridiron Sport
- Dive into a Realm of Dreams with Josh Jacobs Fantasy
- What Is Andrew Luck Doing Now? Where is Andrew Luck Now?
Contending for Roster Spots
Logan Woodside made a final push to secure a spot on the Falcons’ roster as the third-string quarterback behind Ridder and Heinicke. Woodside took over during the second quarter and helmed the second half, completing 24 of 31 passes for 196 yards, albeit enduring four sacks.
Smith commended Woodside’s performance, stating, “I thought he performed admirably.”
Woodside fumbled when tackled by linebacker Quincy Roche towards the end of the game, with Toby Ndukwe recovering for Pittsburgh at Atlanta’s 25-yard line.
Teams must finalize their rosters with 53 players by Tuesday.
First-half statistics underscored the Steelers’ domination, particularly with their starters on the field. Pittsburgh outgained Atlanta 253 yards to 55 in the first half, boasting an overwhelming 128-5 lead in rushing yards.
McFarland’s 10 carries yielded 55 yards. The Steelers ultimately commanded a 310-199 advantage in total yards, including a 175-40 lead in rushing yards.
Bergeron’s Observational Role
Notably, rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron was in uniform for Atlanta, yet he remained an observer, confirming his status as a starter. The second-round pick from Syracuse ascended to this position following Matt Hennessey’s season-ending knee injury on August 16.
Another query concerning the Falcons’ offensive line pertains to the backup swing tackle role behind starters Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary. Should Jalen Mayfield, who also plays guard, not secure the swing tackle position, the Falcons might explore additional options post roster reductions next week.