The Pittsburgh Steelers exploited the Atlanta defense, which was missing five starters, and found a way to slow down the Falcons' high-scoring offense and win for the first time at Heinz Field. The result was a 41-17 Pittsburgh victory and the third straight loss for the Falcons.
Pittsburgh (2-2-1) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and parlayed a blocked punt into two scores within two minutes in the third quarter to put away the Falcons. The Steelers scored touchdowns on five of their first eight possessions.
"I thought the significant element of play was our big people on offense and defense," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We were able to run the ball. We were able to minimize their running game. We were able to protect our quarterback. We were able to get after theirs."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 17-of-26 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He was not sacked. He wasted another opportunity when he threw an interception in the end zone. Pittsburgh is now 12-0 when Roethlisberger throws 30 or fewer passes.
"You know you've got to get a win," Roethlisberger said. "You're at home. I think it was more just knowing what we wanted to do."
"I thought we were really balanced today," Roethlisberger said. "It starts with the O-line. They were fantastic today. They opened up holes for James and protected me in the pass game."
Atlanta (1-4) struggled all afternoon against a fierce Pittsburgh pass rush. The Steelers sacked Matt Ryan five times and were credited with eight hurries. Ryan completed 22-of-30 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown.
Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper had a career-high nine receptions for 77 yards. Mohamed Sanu had four catches for 73 yards and one touchdown and Julio Jones, who didn't touch the ball until the fourth quarter, caught five balls for 62 yards.
The Falcons got All-Pro running back Devonta Freeman back after a three-game absence, but he only ran eight times for 32 yards and caught two passes for nine yards.
The Steelers scored on their first two possessions, a 1-yard run by Conner and an 18-yard pass from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster, to make it 13-0.
The Falcons answered with 10 points in the second half. Ryan threw a 43-yard touchdown to Sanu and added a 47-yard Matt Bryant field goal to cut the lead to 13-10 at the half.
"Coming in at the half it was 13-10 and we had our thoughts and chances on how it would go in the second half," Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn said. "We completely missed our mark. ... For us, the answer is all within our own locker room to play like we're capable of playing."
The Steelers scored on a 9-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Brown and tacked on another score on a 2-yard Conner run, which came three plays after Roosevelt Nix blocked Matt Bosher's punt.
"Big football play," Tomlin said. "But we expect that from Rosie and that group. ... A significant play by Rosie Nix."
Atlanta tried to get back in the game when it scored on Ito Smith's 2-yard run, but the Steelers got it back when Roethlisberger found Brown for a 47-yard touchdown.
"It was a great day to win first off," Brown said. "Obviously, we got some things rolling. I think going into the second half, it was great. Everyone uplifted each other, believed in each other and the energy was great."
The Steelers put it away when Ryan was sacked by T.J. Watt, a hit that produced a fumble. L.J. Fort picked up the loose ball and finished the scoop-and-score from the two.
Watt finished with a game-high eight tackles and had three sacks and forced a fumble. Cameron Heyward had three tackles, 1.5 sacks and two hurries.
Atlanta's top defensive player was safety Damontae Kazee, who had six tackles, one interception and forced a fumble.