Do the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers have a long and storied history? They do not. But the rivalry dates back to 1966, and the series only includes 17 games. No matter the record of either team, they both always seem to put on a fantastic show with great storylines attached. Between 2002-2010, these teams went to overtime on three occasions.
Here’s a brief tale of the tape:
Points: Steelers 520, Falcons 320
Wins: Steelers 14, Falcons 2, Ties 1
Home Record: Steelers 7-0-1, Falcons 2-7-0
Biggest Win Margin: 09/27/1993 - Steelers 45, Falcons 17
Closest Game: Falcons 34, Steelers 34 (11/10/2002)
Overtime Games: 3 - Steelers 1-1-1, Falcons 1-1-1
Postseason Record: None
December 18, 1966 - Steelers 57, Falcons 33
The very first meeting between the Steelers and Falcons came on the very last weekend of the 1966 season with the 4-8-1 Steelers visiting 3-10 Atlanta and an expansion club looking for a fourth win in a row to become the winningest first-year team in NFL history. The Steelers were merely just looking to end another dismal season on a high note.
Bill Nelsen, who missed a good bit of the year out with injury, was back starting at quarterback for Pittsburgh. After a punt and a Bill Saul fumble recovery of an Ernie Wheelright fumble, the Steelers struck first with two Mike Clark field goals of 22. Late In the opening quarter, a John Campbell interception of Falcons QB Randy Johnson gives the Steelers excellent field position for Gary Ballman to catch a pass in the end zone for a 13-0 lead for the visitors form the North. The Steelers would extend that lead after a Brady Keys interception of a long pass by Johnson gains another Pittsburgh possession at the Falcons 48. Amos Bullocks ground out a 13-yard run to glory, and the score was 20-0.
The Falcons would see their side lit up on the scoreboard though. Junior Coffey’s one-yard rush capped off a lengthy drive to make the score 20-7. But the Steelers had a sustained drive of their own on the next series and Cannonball Butler’s push from a yard away put six more points on the board, as problems on the hold affected the point after. Bill Saul’s interception next would help the Steelers get more points, as Clark hit from 21 with time running low. The halftime scoreboard read 29-7.
The Falcons would strike first after intermission. Avoiding an intense rush, Johnson launched one for an all-alone Preston Ridlehuber, who strolls in for a 53-yard score and only a 29-14 deficit. But the Steelers will score three straight times after that with Cannonball Butler’s one yard dive, Roy Jefferson hauling in of a 68-yard pass from and Clendon Thomas’ 23-yard fumble return of a Junior Coffey miscue to make the score 50-14. The Falcons do try to scratch back though as the Steelers ignore Ridlehuber again in the end zone for his second score.
In the fourth, the Steelers add a Willie Asbury run from two-yards out to close out their scoring, as the Falcons replace Johnson Dennis Claridge. Claridge locates Taz Anderson for a 62-yard score. The duo will do it again from 12 yards away after the Falcs recover a fumbled punt return by Brady Keys. But the Steelers triumph and had back home for the holidays on a winning note of 57-33.
October 4, 1987 - Steelers 28, Falcons 12
Supposedly not wanting a repeat of 1982 when the NFL lost seven games due to a players’ strike, the owners hedged their bets and brought in replacement players and welcomed those who decide to cross the picket line. After only having the third week of the season wiped out, the Steelers held their camp at the Point Stadium in Johnstown and fielded a team of virtual unknowns to don the hypocycloids. Week 4 was the first installment of these such “scab” games around the NFL and the sort-of Steelers traveling to Atlanta to play the fairly-false Falcons was what fans got. Starting for the Steelers was Steve Bono (12/22 for 164 yards) who would carve a pretty decent career for himself in the league. but the 25-year old from UCLA was ineffective during the first quarter. Atlanta took a 3-0 lead when rookie Greg Davis (12-year NFL career) kicked a 27-yard field goal and the Falcons were threatening to score again after recovering a Russell Hairston fumble. However, former Oilers cornerback Larry Griffin, who came into Johnstown late and would have a seven-year career with the Steelers, nabbed his first of two interceptions of quarterback Erik Kramer. Yeah that Kramer, who was in replacement camp for the Steelers and led the Detroit Lions to the 1991 NFC Championship Game. Griffin’s second-quarter pick set up Earnest Jackson’s run behind Mike Webster (the only Steelers regulars to cross the picket line) for a one-yard touchdown run and a 7-3 lead. The Steelers increased that Steelers lead when Russell Hairston, late of the Arena League’s Pittsburgh Gladiators, caught a 5-yard completion from Bono for the score. The Steelers took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. In the third, Bono was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety but made up for it with a 5-yard touchdown through a hole created by Mike Webster. With Pittsburgh leading 21-5, Noll gave his QB2, Reggie Collier, some game action and the former USFL and Dallas Cowboy, found Joey Clinkscales for an 11-yard touchdown completion in the end zone to increase the Steelers lead to increase the lead to an insurmountable 28-5 lead. Atlanta scored on a garbage time pass from Jeff Van Raaphorst to Milton Barney, but the game was too far out of reach and the Steelers prevailed 28-12. It was a masterful job by Head Coach Chuck Noll to have these guys ready and the Steelers were fortunate to have the services of All-Pros Jackson (104 yards and a TD) and Webster and great performances by Griffin (two INT, three pass defenses and seven tackles) and the ninth-rounder Clinkscales (six receptions for 150 yards). The Steelers upped their record to 3-1 and when a reporter asked Noll if it was an NFL-caliber game, the legendary coach boldly retorted, “It was today.”
November 4, 1990 - Steelers 21, Falcons 9
Chuck Noll and Jerry Glanville had a very contentious relationship dating back to their bitter AFC Central rivalry. In fact, the meeting between the Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1989 AFC Wildcard Game ended with Noll’s club shocking the football world and “the Man in Black” getting his walking papers out of Space City and finding himself in Hot-lanta. And lo and behold, Glanville’s old rival was next on the dance card, as the 4-4 Steelers welcomed Jerry and his 3-4 Falcons to Three Rivers Stadium.
After a 1-3 first quarter of the season, Noll’s Steelers were riding high in the second four contests to flip that record to 4-4. With the AFC Player of the Month in Bubby Brister, the Steelers offense had certainly come alive, but not in the first half as three Greg Davis field goals (41, 43, and gave the Falcons a 9-0 lead at intermission. The first score was due to Larry Griffin, an up man, fumbling away the opening kickoff, while a punt, a Merrill Hoge miscue, and an egregious 40-yard penalty on Rod Woodson for pass interference led to the second and third, respectively. Atlanta looked to have the right stuff to score again before halftime, but Dwayne Woodruff halted that talk with a 69-yard interception return on the last play of the first half.
In the second half, the Steelers seized control as Bubby Brister passed for two second-half touchdowns. After Davis missed his second field goal attempt of the afternoon, No. 6 hit Louis Lipps for 11 yards with 7:17 to go in the third quarter. His other scoring pass came on a 19 yarder to Mike Mularkey early in the fourth after a Larry Griffin interception of QB Chris Miller. Glanville’s Red Gun offense was attempting to fire themselves back in the game, but Bryan Hinkle forced and recovered a Mike Rozier fumble at the Pittsburgh 21 with 3:06 left. To follow, Warren Williams would put the game out of reach when he raced for a 70-yard touchdown to make the score 21-9. Craig Veasey erased all doubt when he would recover a fumble by Rozier, the former Pittsburgh Mauler No. 1 overall pick in 1984, after a catch on the very next possession. The win would propel Pittsburgh to 5-4, and a tie with Cincinnati for first place in the division. But although he would never admit it, one could only imagine the satisfaction of Chuck Noll after vanquishing his hated rival once again.
November 10, 2002 - Steelers 34, Falcons 34 (OT)
Both the Steelers and the Falcons started off their 2002 seasons poorly at 1-3, but four-game winning streaks had both franchises staring the second half of the NFL season off in a positive manner at 5-3 and a postseason berth possibly on the horizon. For the Steelers, Tommy Maddox continued his career revival with a comeback story that got more Hollywood feel-good every week.
On a beautiful Autumn Sunday with the temperature 64 degrees at Heinz Field, the two teams exchanged fumbles and punts in the first four series of the game. When Maddox’ efforts on the third drive stalled at the Atlanta 16, struggling Todd Peterson (10 for 15 on field goal attempts in 8 games) put the first points on the board with a good kick from 34 yards away with :09 seconds remaining in the first. Vick worked quick to hook up with Shaun Jefferson on the next series with a 43-yard pass play, that was not to be outdone by Maddox countering with a 33-yard, circus catch by Plaxico Burress in the end zone and a scoring toss from the 5 to Hines Ward for a 17-7 lead.The Steelers did get a break when Plex spiked the ball without being touched, but he was ruled down, instead of turning the ball over to Atlanta, something that he did as a rookie two years before against Jacksonville. The Steelers had a chance to add on to their advantage, but Peterson missed a 40-yard field goal attempt with no time left on the clock,
In Half No. 2, Atlanta and Pittsburgh traded off big pays with a 59-yard sideline dash by Warrick Dunn, and a 62-yard catch-and-run by Burress but Peterson’s point-after was blocked. The score was now 23-14, Steelers. After a Jay Feely field goal from 36, Maddox would throw his fourth touchdown of the day for 18 yards to Jerame Tuman, which was followed up by a Hines Ward catch for the two-pointer. It was a comfy 31-17 with 2:31 left in the third. Then Dwayne Washington nailed Brian Finneran and he coughed up the ball and it was recovered by James Farrior at the Atlanta 41. Playing conservatively on the drive, Amos Zeroue (123 yards on 37 Carrie’s) starting for the injured Jerome Bettis, ran the ball seven straight plays to the 16. The Steelers would get another Peterson field goal out of it and a comfortable 34-17 score. But it was far from comfy and safe with 12:58 remaining on the game clock.
When Jason Gildon sacked Vick for a three-and-out, it looked like victory was exit straight ahead. But instead, No. 7 in white Vick rallied Atlanta from 17 points down in the fourth quarter. How? Antwaan Randle-El fumbled the ensuing punt to be recovered by Mark Simoneau. With the new life, Dan Reeve’s team moved to the doorstep, and Bob Christian plowed in for a 1-yard TD. Then Tommy Maddox and the Steelers offense couldn’t work the clock down and went stone cold, as Feeley hit another field goal. After a second-straight three-and-out, Josh Miller boomed a 57-yard punt, but Allen Rossum returned the offering 34 yards to set the Falcons up at the 50 with less than two-minutes left. Vick engineered another scoring drive and finished it when he rolled in from 11-yards out in only a mere one minute and four seconds. Maddox couldn’t get the Steelers close enough with :42 ticks left, so the game went into an extra quarter.
Overtime was insane for a full 15 minutes. Tommy Maddox drove the Steelers close enough to attempt a Todd Peterson redemption field goal from 48, but it was blocked and gave Atlanta great field position, only to go three-and-out. From there Maddox drove the Steelers down to the enemy 33 but decided to punt on fourth down instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with Peterson. With a chance to win it, the Falcons couldn’t move past their own 23 and had to punt again. This is where Maddox stumbled, throwing a ball to Plaxico that was picked by Kevin Mathis with 1:48 remaining on the clock and the white-black-and-red on the Steelers 44. The Steelers forced a fourth down situation, but Atlanta expertly drained the clock and brought in Feely for a 56-yarder and the win. It was James Farrior coming up huge again with the block and the Steelers had one more shot with one second remaining in a crazy 74:49 minutes of play on their own 49. Maddox launched a pass towards the end zone and it was miraculously caught by Plaxico at the one. No. 80 was immediately tackled by Finneran with half of his body in the end zone but not the ball. Bill Cowher argued that it was in. to no avail, and his offense didn’t have enough time to run another play. It was the Men of Steel’s first tie since a 35-35 game against Denver in 1974. But to some it felt like a loss due to the circumstances. Maddox was 28 of 41 for 473 yards, breaking Bobby Layne’s 1958 mark of 409 yards, while Burress made nine catches to beat Buddy Dial’s franchise record with 253 yards to go with his two touchdowns, but to some it felt like a loss due to the circumstances. “We didn’t win but, we didn’t lose,’’ Burress said as reported by ESPN. “It’s so disappointing. You have this uneasy feeling that you lost, but you know you really didn’t.’’
As somebody in the stands that day, I wholeheartedly agree.
October 22, 2006 - Falcons 41, Steelers 38 (OT)
The Falcons and Steelers don’t get together that often, but the action is pretty good when they do. But this 2006 meeting in the Peach State was an absolute thriller. The Falcons got on the board first after a punt on their first series was fumbled by Santonio Holmes at the 22 and recovered by Adam Jennings. Immediately, Michael Vick teamed up with TE Alge Crumpler for a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 advantage. But the Steelers roared back to take a 17-7 lead behind a Jeff Reed field goal, a gorgeous Troy Polamalu interception of Vick that set up a Hines Ward 11-yard scoring catch, and a Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller pass play of a yard for the TD and a 17-7 lead. But then it would be The Falcons’ turn again with the flurry of points continuing. Atlanta would capitalize on a Big Ben fumbled snap recovered by Michael Boley and a surprise onsides kick for two touchdown passes, a second to Crumpler and another to Michael Jenkins for 17 yards. The Steelers would counter though, as the lead would eventually change hands six times in the dome on this day, with Big Ben locating Nate Washington for a 10-yard scoring play to put the visitors back up in the final minute.
A tradeoff of three-and-outs started the new half, but the second possession for the Steelers saw disaster strike. Ben was hit by a flock of Falcons three different ways, including a helmet-to- helmet blow that rendered the third-year man laid-out and motionless for more than five minutes on the hard Georgia Dome surface. Roethlisberger’s tremendous 15/20 passing, 235-yard, three touchdown day came to an end as he was ushered out on a stretcher. Charlie Batch came in, but the drive halted with a Willie Parker fumble after a catch that was forced and recovered by Johnathan Babineaux put the ball in Vick’s mitts on the Steelers 26. The Falcons QB found Crumpler again over the middle for 23 and Warrick Dunn waltzed in from the 1 to give Atlanta the lead again, 28-24. Put the pinball effect was not nearly over. Batch went deep to Hines for a 70-yard touchdown connection in which No. 86 ran out of his shoe, and yet a third Vick to Crumpler hookup to make the scoreboard light up to read Atlanta 35, Pittsburgh 31 with 1:18 to go in the third. Vick had never enjoyed anything more than a two-touchdown game, and on this day No. 7 had a career day and threw for four.
A couple of punts highlighted the beginning of the fourth quarter, but Atlanta ended that with a Morten Andersen 25-yarder with 6:28 to go. But a determined Batch would take very little time in finding Nate Washington for a gain of 49, and then to Ward for 17 day (8 catches, 171 yds, 3 TDs) and the reigning Super Bowl MVP’s third score of the day. With the score dead-locked at 34 and 3:21 left on the clock, the defense of the Steelers had to clamp down on the dynamic and fruitful, future Steeler. Vick drove his team down to the Steelers 38 before the drive stalled. Falcon’s Head Coach Jim Mora called upon his punter Michael Koenen to attempt the 56 -yarder instead of his 46-year-old Hall of Famer Andersen. The kick sailed through the uprights, but Bill Cowher called a timeout right before the ball was snapped. Koenen’s second attempt was wide right, but Polamalu was called for running into the kicker. For some reason, Cowher called his final timeout here, and the Falcons made a switch. Andersen was reinserted to attempt the kick from 52, his kick looked like it was perfect but fell just short. Immediately after that, Batch launched one to Ward for 25 yards to get close to Jeff Reed’s range with :17 seconds remaining but Washington was called for a false start on the next play and the game went into extras.
In overtime, Atlanta won the toss and Vick avoided a fierce rush by Polamalu on 3rd and 9 to hit a long pass play to (of course) Crumpler to put the Falcons in business. Morten Andersen then finished it with a 32-yd game-winning kick, and the Steelers lost a thriller to fall to a debilitating 2-4.
September 12, 2010 - Steelers 15, Falcons 9 (OT)
With Ben Roethlisberger serving a six-game suspension, Dennis Dixon was the quarterback of choice to start the 2010 regular season at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Jeff Reed got the Steelers on the board first on the game’s first position with a 52-yard field goal, at the time it was the longest field goal in Heinz Field history. Then the drought hit both teams and a dust storm of punts followed. Then Dennis Dixon had enough of the seven-straight combined punts and ended that streak and a nearly five-minute drive by throwing an interception in field goal range to Atlanta’s Mike Peterson. More ineptitude followed as both teams traded missed field goals, But Matt Ryan engineered a drive to tie the score at three-all with a field goal as the gun sounded. In the second half, the Falcons drove down and kicked another field goal to take a 6-3 lead. But the Steelers would match it on the next possession and then take the lead with another Reed field goal in the fourth. It got interesting on the next possession as Ryan was dropped by Lawrence Timmons and the ball squirted loose to be snapped up by James Harrison who returned it for a scoop-six. But Mike Smith challenged, and the Falcons had new life. Seven plays later, Ryan completed to Roddy White, but Ike Taylor made a huge stop of the Falcons star at the Steelers five to force a field goal with 3:24 remaining to tie things up at 9-9. Dixon had plenty of time to get the home team in position for the win, but a sack by Kroy Biermann forced another punt and gave Mike Smith’s team a shot at closing things out. Troy Polamalu would have none of that though, intercepting Matt Ryan with 1:41 left on the clock at the Steelers 29. Perfect opportunity for Jeff Reed, right? Put in what would be his final year for the Steelers do too having an ineffective year, Skippy pulled the 40-yard attempt wide right. In OT, the Falcons were forced to punt the ball away and a few plays later, Rashard Mendenhall added 50 yards to his total that reached 120 on the afternoon, and his run to glory would put a bow on a 15-9 victory. The Steelers would use this game as a launching pad for confidence without Ben for a while, and upon his return, No. 7 would lead the team to their third AFC Title in six years.