Finishing the preseason strong: The Steelers closed out the preseason with a 24-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons, finishing with a 3-0 record and turning in strong performances in all phases.
"I'm appreciative of the effort, not only tonight but through this whole process of development," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "Can't say enough about the group, the energy they bring daily. Hopefully it's a catalyst for us as we transition out of preseason ball to regular season ball.
"Appreciate the efforts tonight. We saw some of the things we wanted to see from the units and had an opportunity to highlight some guys. Still have some growth ahead of us. Penalty on the opening kickoff, starting on a long field, I appreciate the offense going down and scoring. That usually doesn't happen. Things of that nature.
"You can't get enough of these opportunities in stadium. You work your tail off to simulate it in a practice setting. It is what it is. We'll comb through it in an effort to get better. Then we'll transition our attention to the next component of this process, reducing our roster and getting ready for the opener."
The game was the final opportunity for players to get game ready for the opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 10, and Tomlin didn't hesitate playing the starters, who turned out strong performances.
"I don't really need validation," said Tomlin when asked if the performance validated him playing them. "I think it's difficult to box without sparring. Preseason is an opportunity for us to spar and sharpen our swords for the battle."
The first-team offense once again shined, getting the ball in the end zone on both of their possessions.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed four of four passes for 86 yards, including two beautiful passes in the opening drive, en route to a 92-yard touchdown drive to start the game. Pickett hit receiver Diontae Johnson on third down for 33 yards and threw sideline pass that was right on the money to receiver George Pickens for 35 yards. Running back Najee Harris capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown, while running back Jaylen Warren got the Steelers on the board on their second drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. Keeping it on the ground, running back Anthony McFarland Jr. added a five-yard touchdown run after the starters were pulled.
It capped a strong preseason for Pickett, who heads into his first full season a starter.
"I think the growth is associated with being him, not necessarily the surface level things associated with the position, but the leadership things, the communication, bringing people together," said Tomlin. "When you have a higher level of comfort in terms of what it is you're doing then those things probably happen more. That is significant. It's not play related, but it is. He is the catalyst for that unit. He controls the pace and the tenor of that unit. I think if he is comfortable, that unit has an opportunity to be comfortable and that is the most significant difference."
The defense didn't give the Falcons anything to work with early on, with linebacker T.J. Watt busting free for a seven-yard sack on Atlanta's first possession.
The next challenge for the Steelers will be reducing the roster from 90 players to the 53-man roster before the NFL deadline on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m.
More of the same: For the third straight preseason game, the only thing stopping Kenny Pickett and the first-team offense was Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers' starting quarterback played two series in Thursday night's 24-0 victory over the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, both of which resulted in drives for touchdowns.
After that, the Steelers' head coach had seen enough.
Pickett exited having completed all four of his passing attempts for 86 yards while leading the Steelers on scoring marches of 92 and 29 yards.
The Falcons opted not to play their first-team defense against Pickett and the Steelers.
Pickett was more focused on how the Steelers were playing than who they were playing against.
"Just solidifying the preseason and finishing strong, going out there and putting points on the board was really our goal," Pickett maintained. "Went 2-for-2 with touchdowns, so that's always a good sign."
The game's first possession included a pair of deep strikes from Pickett, one down each sideline. The first was a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Diontae Johnson on third-and-5 from the Steelers' 13-yard line, and the second a 35-yard hookup with wide receiver George Pickens on second-and-10 from the Atlanta 36.
Pickett played five series over the course of three preseason games. He completed 13 of 15 passes for 199 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
All five drives reached the end zone.
"It's proof that all the work that we put in paid off and we had a good preseason," Pickett concluded. "But obviously now it counts, so now we gotta get our attention to San Fran and focus on those guys and start getting into some game-prep stuff."
The Steelers open the regular season on Sept. 10 against San Francisco at Acrisure Stadium.
Working on their game: Linebacker Elandon Roberts continues to show why the Steelers signed him as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, turning in another strong performance in the preseason.
Roberts had three tackles and a sack against the Falcons, while also being a hub of communication for the defense wearing the 'green dot.'
"For us, we went in there with a mindset, this is how we are going to approach the game," said Roberts. "Games like this you can't waste. We went in there and worked on our communication, working on what we needed to work on as a defense and when we were satisfied with it, we were able to start pulling the starters."
While the Falcons sat their starters, the Steelers went into the game looking it as an opportunity to get better as they prepare for the start of the regular season.
"I don't care who you've got out there," said Roberts. "If you want to hold your starters, that's up to them. We have an agenda. Our agenda was getting out there, being able to execute our calls, communicate well as a defense. When we felt we were at a good beat with that, it was up to Mike Tomlin and (defensive coordinator) Teryl Austin to pull us. I felt like all the guys played well tonight."
Like the offense, the starting defense turned in a strong overall preseason performance, but Roberts knows there is still work to do before the Steelers host the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 10.
"We just have to keep growing," said Roberts. "As the season goes on, it's a one week mentality. You can't look too far ahead. You have to focus on what is in front of you. We'll get back to Pittsburgh, clean up this film and then put all our focus on Week 1."
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Game action photos from the Week 3 preseason game at the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium