When Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw his ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the end zone late in the first half of a three-point game against the Falcons at Heinz Field on Sunday, you may have had a defeated feeling.
After building a quick 13-0 lead in the first quarter, Pittsburgh’s offense sputtered in the second. Meanwhile, the Falcons, a team with one of the more high-powered offensive machines in the NFL, scored 10 unanswered points and looked poised for many more after intermission.
Furthermore, Atlanta was set to receive the second-half kickoff, and it seemed inevitable that the Steelers’ much-maligned defense would soon collapse. Couldn’t you just imagine a Falcons’ touchdown and a four-point deficit for the home team before the home folks could even get settled into their seats after their concession run at halftime?
And with the way the Steelers’ offense had gone into hibernation down-the-stretch in each of the previous two match-ups—Pittsburgh didn’t score a single point in the second half in games against the Buccaneers and Ravens, respectively—weren’t you just preparing for the deficit to continue to grow all throughout the final two periods?
But a funny thing happened on the way to gloom and doom: the Steelers responded—on both sides of the ball.
Instead of marching down the field with the greatest of ease on the opening drive of the third quarter, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan and Co. could only muster 18 yards on six plays before punting the football back to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s offense responded not with another second half sputter, but with a spurt all the way to pay-dirt on a 12-play, 85-yard drive that consumed 7:06 of clock and culminated in a nine-yard touchdown catch by receiver Antonio Brown, the man who was supposed to be on the receiving end of Roethlisberger’s aforementioned ill-advised pass late in the first half when the Steelers had the ball deep in Atlanta territory and seemed likely to walk away with at least a Chris Boswell field goal attempt. Unlike that ugly second-quarter pass to Brown, who must have been covered by every member of the Falcons’ defense, Roethlisberger’s third-quarter touchdown strike to No. 84 was a precise nine-yard out and gave the Steelers a 20-10 lead.
Three plays after that, fullback Roosevelt Nix blocked a punt, and the punter was ultimately tackled at the Atlanta 19. Three plays after that, running back James Conner followed another Nix block (this one of the fullback variety) into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to make it 27-10 and give the Steelers firm control of the game.
But things may have turned out differently if not for how both the Steelers’ defense and offense responded right out of the gate in the third quarter.
The Steelers re-wrote the second half script they had been following during the first month of the season, and it proved to be pivotal in improving their record to 2-2-1.