ATLANTA – The running game keeps producing for the Steelers.
Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Steelers turned the tables on the Falcons, who entered the game with the NFL's fourth-rated rushing attack.
The Steelers rushed for 154 yards and ran out most of the clock at the end of the game, beating the Falcons here to earn their second-consecutive victory.
"Two road victories in a row, was much needed trying to find that rhythm and do what good teams do, which is stack winning performance on top of winning performance," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "That's the first time we've done it this year and can't underscore that if you're going to be somebody to be considered and taken seriously, you got to stack wins. Hopefully it's a launching pad for us as we move forward."
The Steelers (5-7) had averaged nearly 160 rushing yards in their past four games. And while they didn't reach that total in this game, they ran the ball effectively throughout the game, even though it didn't necessarily always add up to touchdowns – largely because of self-inflicted mistakes when they got into scoring range.
"That's the next step," said tight end Steelers Pat Freiermuth. "We've just got to finish drives. When we put long drives together, we've got to finish them with touchdowns."
After Atlanta (5-8) turned a 16-6 halftime deficit into a 19-16 deficit with a field goal with 5:27 remaining, the Steelers got the ball back and essentially ran out the clock, with Najee Harris doing much of the damage.
Harris finished with 86 yards on 17 carries, while Kenny Pickett was efficient, completing 16 of 28 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers punted the ball back to the Falcons with 53 seconds remaining after the Falcons used all their timeouts to continue stopping the clock, and Pressley Harvin's punt – just his second of the game – was downed at the 2.
With no timeouts remaining, the Falcons needed to get aggressive and Minkah Fitzpatrick jumped Marcus Mariota's first pass, intercepting it to seal the win.
"We were in two-high. He knew we were in a two-high," said Fitzpatrick. "It was four verticals trying to hit the seam behind the linebackers. He had his favorite target in the slot, so I was reading the quarterback the whole way."
He ran out of bounds untouched inside the 5. Did Fitzpatrick think about trying to score?
"Nope. As soon as I caught the ball, it was time to go home. We got the win, I'm good," he said.
The Steelers dominated possession of the ball in the first half, running 39 plays to 23 for the Falcons, which led to a nearly two-to-one advantage in time of possession as well as they took a 16-6 lead into the locker room.
Matthew Wright kicked two field goals from 46 yards out and one from 48, while Pickett tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Connor Heyward. The touchdown catch was the first of the rookie tight end's career.
"Being from Georgia, born and raised, it means that much more," said Heyward. "If I didn't score and we just won, I would've been just as happy. I'm glad it was a team win, and on to the next one."
That touchdown came after Freiermuth caught a short pass in front of the Steelers' bench and ran over safety Jaylinn Hawkins, keeping his feet and scooting down the sideline for a 57-yard gain to the Atlanta 12.
The Steelers had 94 yards rushing in the first half on 20 carries, with Najee Harris picking up 45 of that on nine carries. Harris had been on the Steelers' injury report all week with an abdominal injury before being taken off the list on Friday.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 13 game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
The Falcons, meanwhile, went away from their signature running game. Running the ball just six times in the first half.
Instead, the Falcons had Mariota drop back to pass 17 times in the first half. He was 9 of 16 for 122 yards and was sacked once, as Atlanta's scoring came on field goals of 50 and 51 yards from Younghoe Koo.
The Steelers drove to the Atlanta 11 on their opening possession of the second half but again settled for a field goal, this one from 33 yards by Wright to take a 19-6 lead.
But Atlanta committed to its running game on its next possession, running the ball seven-straight times during an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive before Mariota tossed a 7-yard, play-action touchdown pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt to trim the Steelers' lead to 19-13 just before the end of the third quarter.
The Falcons finally forced the Steelers to punt on their next possession after a catch-and-fumble by Diontae Johnson was overturned by replay.
Atlanta again cranked up its running game, moving to the Pittsburgh 10 with just under 7 minutes to play. But a holding penalty on Parker Hesse pushed the Falcons back to the 20.
Mariota completed a pass to rookie Drake London to the 10 on second down, but on third-and-goal from the 10, Mariota overthrew London in the end zone with Arthur Maulet in coverage and the Falcons settled for a 28-yard Koo field goal that made it 19-16 with 5:27 remaining in the game.