Nov 27, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) is sacked by Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat (90) and Commanders defensive end James Smith-Williams (96) during the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After letting victory slip away, Falcons hungry to play Steelers

There’s no sugarcoating what happened last week.

The Atlanta Falcons let one get away that they could have won, and it might come back to haunt them big-time come season’s end.

Down 19-13 in the last minute at Washington, Atlanta worked its way inside the 5-yard line with a chance to pull out a win that would have put it in first place in the NFC South. But Marcus Mariota tossed a tipped-ball interception that sealed a gutting loss.

And now the Falcons have to pick up the pieces, starting Sunday at home against a Pittsburgh Steelers team perfectly willing to play the spoiler’s role.

At 5-7, Atlanta is a half-game behind Tampa Bay in the division. But the Falcons have missed a spate of chances to establish control of a weak division. Five of their seven defeats have come by a total of 20 points.

Put two or three of those in the win column and they are looking at a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, Atlanta is looking to make up ground in the division while playing the season’s remainder short-handed.

The team disclosed on Wednesday that tight end Kyle Pitts, who despite a disappointing sophomore year remains one of its top players, will undergo season-ending knee surgery. Pitts caught just 28 passes this year and received barely half as many targets as he had in a 68-reception 2021.

“Nothing that concerns us going into 2023,” second-year Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We were a much different team and in a much different place where you saw a lot of growth in a lot of other jobs that we’ve asked him to do.”

Also, Atlanta held out running back Cordarrelle Patterson from Wednesday’s practice, although the team said it was only for rest purposes. It’s likely Patterson and Tyler Allgeier, who have combined for 1,058 yards, will be the focus of its game plan.

As for Pittsburgh (4-7), its playoff hopes are remote at best in the stacked AFC. But the Steelers signaled in Monday night’s 24-17 win at Indianapolis that they don’t plan to roll over for the rest of the season.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was solid in his third straight game without an interception, hitting on 20 of 28 attempts for 174 yards. A variety of running backs helped pound out 172 yards on the ground, enabling Pittsburgh to own possession for more than 34 minutes.

And a decent chunk of that came with starter Najee Harris on the shelf after suffering an abdominal injury that forced him to miss the second half. Harris missed practice on Wednesday and his status for this week’s game might be a game-time decision.

Benny Snell helped pick up slack for Harris with 62 yards on his first 12 carries of the year, including the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run with 9:55 left in the game.

“He has an edge, he runs angry,” Pickett said of Snell. “I love the juice he brings. He’s a detailed guy who does his job very well.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) scores a touchdown while defended by Indianapolis Colts free safety Julian Blackmon (32) during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers lose 13-point lead, rally to defeat Colts

Benny Snell’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:55 left Monday night lifted the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 24-17 win over the host Indianapolis Colts.

Getting his first carries of the year, Snell ran for a team-high 62 yards on 12 carries, earning more work when starter Najee Harris was shut down at halftime with an abdominal injury. Snell’s touchdown capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive that erased the Colts’ only lead of the game.

Indianapolis’ last chance for a tying touchdown ended with 24 seconds left when Matt Ryan’s fourth-down pass from the Pittsburgh 26 was knocked away from Parris Campbell by Cameron Sutton.

Ryan completed 22 of 34 passes for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His 6-yard scoring strike to Michael Pittman with 16 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Colts (4-7-1) a short-lived 17-16 edge.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett hit on 20 of 28 attempts for 174 yards while adding 32 yards on six rushes. Pickett played turnover-free ball for the third straight game.

Jonathan Taylor ran for a game-high 86 yards on 20 carries for Indianapolis, including a 2-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the third quarter.

Pittsburgh (4-7) dominated the first half as Pickett, starting his seventh career game, smartly guided the offense down the field with consistency. Matthew Wright’s 45-yard field goal initiated the scoring on the night’s first drive.

Wright hit from 52 yards less than a minute into the second quarter for a 6-0 lead, followed by a 6-yard touchdown run from Harris at the 7:46 mark of the period that made it 13-0. At that point, the Steelers had 11 first downs to Indianapolis’ none.

The Colts finally gained some traction offensively, picking up enough first downs to set up a 51-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin with 3:48 remaining. But Pittsburgh finished the half with another sustained drive that resulted in Wright’s 25-yard field goal 56 seconds before intermission.

When McLaughlin’s 59-yard attempt was blocked to end the half, the Steelers took a 16-3 lead to the locker room.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs the ball while Philadelphia Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards (57) defends in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers at Colts: Preview, Prop Picks, Prediction

Indianapolis’ Matt Ryan is trying to keep the Colts’ faint playoff hopes alive as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit on Monday night.

Ryan regained the starting quarterback job after interim coach Jeff Saturday replaced the fired Frank Reich. In two games since, the Colts (4-6-1) have split a pair of close contests while Ryan has avoided turnovers.

He has started 225 more NFL games than his Monday counterpart, Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett. Pickett has also avoided interceptions the past two games but still has eight picks against three touchdown passes on the season.

The Colts are consensus 2.5-point favorites at home and have been backed by 63 percent of the spread bets and 60 percent of the money at DraftKings.

However, the public is backing the Steelers (3-7) with 54 percent of the bets and 57 percent of the money at BetMGM and 54 and 51 percent, respectively, at BetRivers.

Colts RB Jonathan Taylor Anytime TD Scorer (-139 at BetRivers): The same prop is -160 at the other two sportsbooks and has drawn the most money at BetRivers. Taylor has scored in consecutive games since Ryan returned to the lineup. The Steelers rank sixth in run defense, but that’s in part because opponents have been hammering their 31st-ranked pass defense. Pittsburgh allows an average of 24.4 points per game.

Under 39.9 Total Points (-110 at all three sportsbooks): The Steelers average a league-worst 6.1 yards per attempt and have thrown a league-low seven TD passes. The Colts haven’t been much better at 6.7 and 10, respectively, and Ryan struggles to throw the ball down field behind poor pass protection.

Steelers OLB T.J. Watt Over 0.25 Sacks (-195 at DraftKings): This has been the fourth-most popular non-touchdown prop bet at the sportsbook. The odds are short, but so, too, are the odds of the Colts keeping Watt away from Ryan for four quarters. The Steelers have only 19 sacks on the season but Watt missed seven games. The Colts have allowed 40 sacks through 11 games, second-most in the NFL, and Ryan has been dropped 29 times in nine starts.

Steelers: Running back Jaylen Warren (hamstring) and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) are out, while wide receiver Miles Boykin (oblique) and linebacker Robert Spillane (back) are questionable)

Colts: Defensive end Kwity Paye (ankle) is out and tight end Kylen Granson (illness) is doubtful. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ribs/illness), defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (back) and outside linebacker Zaire Franklin (illness) are each questionable.

Both offenses are likely going to need to string together lengthy drives in order to put points on the board. That’s a tall task for two turnover-prone quarterbacks – their past two games notwithstanding. Give the nod to the veteran signal-caller at home. — Colts 20, Steelers 16

–Field Level Media

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan (2) signals to the Indianapolis Colts offense Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

At QB, it’s veteran vs. rookie as Colts take on Steelers

One quarterback is deep into the back nine of his NFL career. The other just stepped on the course to start what he hopes is a career with the kind of longevity that his counterpart this week has enjoyed.

That’s just one of the intriguing plots to Monday night’s matchup between the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts.

Neither team is enjoying the type of season it wanted. Pittsburgh (3-7) is likely to miss the playoffs and might endure its worst season under veteran coach Mike Tomlin, while the Colts (4-6-1) fired coach Frank Reich two games ago and hired Jeff Saturday in a move that set NFL Twitter ablaze.

Under Saturday, Indianapolis is 1-1 with a narrow win over the Raiders in Las Vegas and a near-upset last week of the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Colts led 16-3 before the Eagles rallied behind Jalen Hurts for a 17-16 verdict.

The hiring of Saturday led to the return of veteran Matt Ryan under center for Indianapolis. Reich benched the 15-year starter after he tossed nine interceptions and lost three of 11 fumbles in the team’s 3-3-1 start.

Sam Ehlinger was ineffective in his two starts, so Ryan reclaimed the job. And he’s quit coughing the ball up. Ryan hasn’t committed a turnover under Saturday and new offensive coordinator Parks Frazier.

“He acknowledges that that’s something he can’t do, is turning the ball over,” Frazier said. “He knew that all along, but I think he’s really taken that next step of saying, ‘I’m going to protect the ball.’”

Ryan is 44 of 60 for 435 yards in the last two games, although critics have noted how infrequently the Colts take shots down the field. In fairness to Ryan, he’s been sacked 29 times in nine starts, including four last week, and hasn’t had the kind of protection required to pop the defense’s top.

He could get that this week with the 29th-ranked Steelers’ defense in town. They were torched last week by Joe Burrow (four touchdowns, 355 yards) and Cincinnati in a 37-30 defeat at home.

Pittsburgh yields 24.4 ppg, which is 26th in the league, and ranks near the bottom in sacks with just 19. There was a time when 19 sacks were about five games worth for the once-salty Steelers’ defense, but they simply haven’t been able to get to the quarterback.

That has made things harder for rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, making his seventh career start under center, or 225 fewer than Ryan. Pickett showed flashes of potential last week, completing 25 of 42 attempts for 265 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pickett is completing 65.4 percent of his passes, but is averaging just over 6 yards per completion and has tossed nearly three times as many interceptions (8) as TDs (3). But he’s avoided picks the last two games.

“My job is to read the defense and get it to the guy that’s open,” Pickett said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2022, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) calls a play in the huddle in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Burrow (4 TDs), Bengals get payback against rival Steelers

Joe Burrow threw for four touchdowns on Sunday and the visiting Cincinnati Bengals avenged a Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 37-30 win.

Burrow completed 24 of 39 passes for 355 yards and a pair of interceptions. Three of his scoring strikes went to backup running back Samaje Perine, who entered the game for good early in the third quarter after starter Joe Mixon departed with a concussion.

Cincinnati (6-4) took the lead for good when Burrow flipped a 1-yard touchdown toss to Trenton Irwin with 7:02 left in the third quarter. Pittsburgh pulled within a point on Matthew Wright’s 34-yard field goal less than three minutes later but didn’t score again until Najee Harris’ 1-yard plunge with 45 seconds left in the game.

Evan McPherson connected from 54 yards out in the last minute of the quarter and Burrow found Perine for a 6-yard scoring strike at the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter. McPherson added a 44-yard field goal with 3:18 remaining.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett hit 25 of 42 passes for 265 yards with a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Steelers from dropping to 3-7. Harris rushed 20 times for a game-high 90 yards and two scores.

McPherson and Wright each kicked the first of their three field goals to open the scoring in the first quarter. The Bengals found the end zone with 39 seconds left in the period when Burrow flipped a screen pass to Perine, who took it 29 yards for a 10-3 lead.

Pickett and Pittsburgh answered the challenge in a 17-point second quarter. Harris scored on a 19-yard run — the first TD run of more than 8 yards for the Steelers this year — to tie the game just over two minutes into the second quarter.

After Burrow hit Perine on a checkdown for 11 yards and a 17-10 Cincinnati advantage, Pickett found George Pickens for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 left in the half. Wright converted a 30-yard field goal as time expired to make it 20-17 Pittsburgh at the break.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick laughs on the sidelines before a game against the New Orleans Saints at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick (appendectomy) in line to play vs. Bengals

Minkah Fitzpatrick did not receive an injury designation on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final injury report Friday, putting the All-Pro safety in line to play against the Cincinnati Bengals a week after undergoing an appendectomy.

“The worry is when they cut you open, they cut through muscle, obviously to get into your stomach,” Fitzpatrick said, per ESPN. “So you just want to make sure that that’s healed properly before you get out there and go.”

Fitzpatrick, 26, underwent the procedure last Saturday and then attended the team’s home game against the New Orleans Saints the following day.

He did not participate in practice on Wednesday before returning with full participation during the sessions on both Thursday and Friday.

In seven games this season, Fitzpatrick has three interceptions — one returned for a touchdown in the 23-20 overtime win over the Bengals on Sept. 11 — and six passes defended along with 45 tackles.

Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) was the lone Steelers’ player ruled out for Sunday’s contest.

The Bengals, in turn, ruled out wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (hip), defensive tackle Josh Tupou (calf) and defensive back Daxton Hill (shoulder) for Sunday’s game.

Running back Chris Evans (knee) and cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) are questionable to play against Pittsburgh.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) looks for a receiver against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett, George Pickens power Steelers past Saints

Rookies Kenny Pickett and George Pickens each ran for a touchdown, and the host Pittsburgh Steelers rode their defense to a 20-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Pickett completed 18 of 30 passes for 199 yards for the Steelers, whose two rushing touchdowns were all the scoring the team needed. Pittsburgh totaled 217 yards on the ground and shut out New Orleans in the second half.

The Steelers (3-6), rejuvenated by the return of linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Damontae Kazee from injured reserve, held the Saints to 186 yards for their first victory since Oct. 16.

Andy Dalton completed 17 of 27 passes for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for New Orleans (3-7).

The Steelers drove to the 10-yard line before a sack halted the drive to start the third quarter. Matthew Wright, signed from Kansas City’s practice roster this week to replace injured Chris Boswell, missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt.

That was the only scoring opportunity in the third quarter as the teams carried a 10-10 halftime tie into the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh reached the New Orleans 12 before Pickett was sacked. Wright kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 13-10 lead with 13:43 remaining.

Kazee, who hadn’t played since the preseason, intercepted Dalton and Pittsburgh took over at the Saints’ 44. That led to Pickett’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 20-10 lead with 8:38 left.

Levi Wallace intercepted Dalton with 4:23 remaining.

Pickens scored from 1 yard out for a touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead with 5:06 left in the first quarter.

The Steelers increased the lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter when Wright made a 33-yard field goal.

After punting on their first three possessions, the Saints drove 40 yards to set up Wil Lutz’s 44-yard field goal, trimming the lead to 10-3.

Dalton threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson with 19 seconds left in the quarter, producing the 10-all halftime tie.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) runs off the field at half-time against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers’ T.J. Watt activated; Minkah Fitzpatrick (appendicitis) out Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers activated linebacker T.J. Watt, who missed seven games with a pectoral injury, off injured reserve on Saturday.

The defense, however, will be without fellow All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. The safety is out with appendicitis.

In addition, the team placed cornerback William Jackson III (back) on injured reserve and elevated safety Elijah Riley to the active list for the game.

Watt sustained his injury in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals and returned to practice on Oct. 26. He also underwent minor knee surgery while he was sidelined.

“It’s huge to finally have a helmet back on and be out there on the field, Watt told reporters Friday. “Just to feel the emotions and feel alive again in the stadium.”

Watt had a sack and interception before leaving the game in Week 1. Last season, the three-time All-Pro tied Michael Strahan (2001) for the most sacks (22.5) in a season since the stat became official in 1982.

The Steelers (2-6) can use the help on defense, especially with Fitzpatrick ruled out.

In seven games this season, Fitzpatrick has three interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — and six passes defensed along with 45 tackles.

The Steelers acquired Jackson in a trade with the Washington Commanders on Nov. 1. He has yet to play for Pittsburgh because of the back injury.

In 75 career games (64 starts) with the Cincinnati Bengals and Commanders, Jackson has 205 career tackles with five interceptions, 51 passes defensed and one sack. He returned one interception for a score.

Riley was promoted from the practice squad in Week 6 and played 13 percent of defensive snaps.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) runs off the field at half-time against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers’ T.J. Watt to play Sunday against Saints

Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro pass rusher T.J. Watt said he will play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after missing seven games with a torn pectoral muscle.

The team opened the 21-day practice window on Watt on Oct. 26, designating him for return from injured reserve. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Watt told reporters he didn’t expect to be on a snap count for the Steelers (2-6).

Watt, 28, initially was expected to miss six weeks with the pectoral injury he suffered in the season opener, but he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month, delaying his return.

He opted to rehab the pec injury rather than have a surgical procedure that carried a recovery time of around 10-12 weeks.

Watt had a sack and interception in the season-opening win but did not finish the game. Last season, the three-time All-Pro tied Michael Strahan (2001) for the most sacks (22.5) in a season since the stat became official in 1982.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off bye, Steelers look to snap skid vs. Saints

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a bye week.

The New Orleans Saints are coming off a short week.

Both struggling teams desperately need a win when they meet on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers (2-6) lost their last two games before the bye, falling to the Eagles 35-13 a week after falling to the Dolphins 16-10. But the last time they played at home they won, defeating Tampa Bay 20-18 on Oct. 16.

During the bye week, coach Mike Tomlin and his staff did some self-scouting since the offense, which is averaging 15 points per game and is tied for the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL (11), has naturally received a lot of scrutiny.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how we’re dividing the labor up and who we’re choosing to feature,” Tomlin said.

One player they will no longer feature is wide receiver Chase Claypool, who was traded to Chicago for a 2023 second-round draft choice during the bye week.

“When you go through a trade circumstance like we did with Chase, that creates a real avenue to have some of those discussions when it comes to distributing playmaking opportunities, who works what area of the field,” Tomlin said. “I feel really good about the work we were able to get done in that component.”

Pittsburgh is hoping to get a couple of key injured defenders back. Linebacker T.J. Watt (pectoral) and safety Damontae Kazee (arm and wrist) are on injured reserve but have returned to practice.

Kicker Chris Boswell (right groin), who missed the game against the Eagles, did not practice. The Steelers signed Matthew Wright off of Kansas City’s practice squad in case Boswell is unavailable.

The Saints (3-6) played their most complete game of the season when they beat visiting Las Vegas 24-0 two weeks ago. But they missed an opportunity to win consecutive games for the first time this season when they lost at home to Baltimore 27-13 on Monday night.

“We haven’t done it consistently enough where we’ve put offense, defense and special teams together,” coach Dennis Allen said, “We’ve had too many games where there has been a phase or two that hasn’t operated in a way that we think gives us an opportunity to win.”

New Orleans didn’t practice Wednesday but estimated that a few injured starters would not have been able to participate, such as cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen), center Erik McCoy (calf), guard Andrus Peat (triceps) and linebacker Pete Werner (ankle). Wide receiver Jarvis Landry (ankle) would have been limited.

The Saints hope the day off will be refreshing. The performance against the Raiders came after a Thursday game when the team had three days off before returning to work.

“It’s all about your process,” linebacker Demario Davis said. “You’re just always refining the process. It’s coming in, putting the work in, learning your opponents, putting together a good game plan and then finding a way to go execute the game plan.

“The good thing is, we’re one week removed from putting it all together. This past one, we didn’t do that so well. So it’s about just getting back to it.”

–Field Level Media