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Old 09-13-2010, 07:34 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Steelers OT win a sprint to the finish

Steelers OT win a sprint to the finish
Monday, September 13, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

The call came to quarterback Dennis Dixon as it had on previous occasions Sunday: "22 double," a handoff to Rashard Mendenhall off the right side.

There had been nothing special from that play all day at Heinz Field, except the Steelers believed they were coming close to blocking to perfection on each occasion.

With their first play of overtime against the Atlanta Falcons, they found perfection.

Mendenhall ran right, broke free and sprinted 50 yards for the game's only touchdown in the Steelers' 15-9 victory, their eighth consecutive in a season opener.

"That play was close a couple other times today," said tight end Heath Miller, who along with Hines Ward and Dennis Johnson led the blocking on the right side. We finally got all the hats on the right guys and that's the way to draw it up."

Unlike that winning run, Dixon was far from perfect in his first start while Ben Roethlisberger serves a four-game suspension, but the Steelers' defense played nearly flawless football and helped them scrape by.

Mendenhall's touchdown came after the defense forced Atlanta to punt from its 14. The Falcons won the coin flip to start the overtime, the third in the past three games between these teams.

"Our defense played especially well today to hold them to those field goals and to give our offense a chance to win it at the end was great,"linebacker James Farrior said.

It appeared as though the defense had delivered the victory with 1:45 left when Troy Polamalu intercepted a Matt Ryan pass to set up a potential winning field goal. The Falcons had the ball at their 21 with 1:45 to play in a tie game. Ryan threw a pass toward Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White -- he would catch 13 for 111 yards -- along the right sideline. Polamalu stepped in front, picked off the ball and kept both feet in bounds for the interception at the Falcons' 30.

Atlanta stuffed running back Isaac Redman on a third-and-1 at the Atlanta 21, sending kicker Jeff Reed on for his fourth field-goal try of the game.

Reed thought he struck the ball well, but it sailed off to the right near the end and missed. Atlanta then ran out the final 39 seconds, sending the game into overtime.

"I thought I crushed it," Reed said.

He and Atlanta's Matt Bryant traded field goals all day, with Reed kicking a Heinz Field-record 52-yarder along with others from 36 and 34 yards. Bryant scored from 49, 39 and 23 yards. Bryant missed one from 46 and Reed attempted a 55-yarder that hit off the right upright.

It was all foot in Sunday's opener, until Mendenhall turned it around with both feet. The run bumped the halfback's so-so day into a good one with 120 yards on 22 carries, the Steelers continuing to work on their ground game as they had in the preseason.

"In the run game in general you have to be patient and it's tough," Mendenhall said. "You wait all game for a play like that."

Those looking for more than field goals also had their patience tested. The Steelers never got closer than the Atlanta 16 until Mendenhall scored. The Falcons reached the Steelers' 5 with 3:28 left and faced a fourth-and-1, trailing 9-6. Coach Mike Smith at first kept his offense on the field but after a delay in which Steelers coach Mike Tomlin tried to challenge the spot on the previous play, Smith sent Bryant on to kick.

"I felt in that situation right there that we needed to tie the game," Smith said.

He also might have felt less than optimistic about picking up that 1 yard for the first down. The Steelers held the Falcons to just 58 yards rushing, only 42 by Michael Turner, who averaged 2.2 yards a carry.

"Our defense did a great job of holding those guys," Miller said. "That's a really good offense. For them to hold them to field goals all day, that's a credit to them."

Although they did not produce touchdowns, both quarterbacks had their moments. Dixon completed 18 of 26 passes for 236 yards and could have had a monster day had he not underthrown so many passes. He bounced at least three to wide open receivers on third downs and his pass to Miller from the Atlanta 35 was woefully short and intercepted by linebacker Mike Peterson at the 27, erasing a good scoring opportunity.

"He just was a little off target initially, at least earlier in the game," Tomlin said. "The thing that I really liked was there was no panic in him. There was no panic, really, in anyone."

Ryan completed 27 of 44 for 252 yards but neither offense looked as if it would get into the end zone, even though Hines Ward added to his many Steelers records by catching six passes for 108 yards.

Was there ever a chance the team that won the coin flip to start overtime might actually not take the ball on offense?

"No," Tomlin stated emphatically. "We were taking the football. I'm not going to give Matt Ryan the football."

Perhaps Smith should have taken that approach as well after Ryan called "tails" and it came up tails. The Falcons had to start at their 9 after a holding call on the kickoff return. They reached the Steelers' 24 and picked up a first down on a Ryan pass except for one thing ... Atlanta's Sam Baker was flagged for holding linebacker James Harrison on the play.

"It was a big thing," Harrison said. "It put them 10 yards back on third down."

Ryan then threw incomplete, the Falcons punted and the ball rolled dead at the 50.

Time for the perfect play to unfold.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10256...#ixzz0zPd7zr1O
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