Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Another given Sunday, another wasted Falcons chance

An early Christmas gift: This was called roughing the passer. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

These short takes are presented as a companion to the Falcons-Steelers game column, which deals with Matt Ryan and can be found on myajc . The Steelers won 27-20.

1. By Falcons' standards, they played something close to shutdown defense. The dashing Steelers scored only 27 points, and only once this season had they won a game with fewer. Their offense managed two touchdowns. Le'Veon Bell, who had rushed for 485 yards the past three games, mustered 47 on 20 carries Sunday. Antonio Brown, who had 11 receiving touchdowns in 13 games, didn't score against the NFL's worst defense. (Heck, the Steelers were outgained 407 yards to 398.) But William Gay's touchdown off a Ryan interception on the first play of the second quarter changed the game, and the Falcons, who were without Julio Jones, couldn't score enough to override a 13-0 deficit.

2. Even without Jones, the passing game was pretty spiffy -- up to a point. Gay's interception was another in the series of inexplicable throws that have blotched Ryan's season. The quarterback did get good mileage from his remaining wideouts: Harry Douglas caught 10 passes for 131 yards; Roddy White caught seven for 58, and Devin Hester five for 85. Where the Falcons missed Jones was near the goal line. They reached the Pittsburgh 16 on the first series of the second and the 1 on the second but were relegated to field goals. Minus their big receiver, the fade was rendered inoperative.

3. For those who believe the Falcons never get a break from the refs, they got one Sunday. Midway through the second quarter, Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds blitzed past backup tight end Bear Pascoe and leveled Ryan -- the verb is applicable -- with what appeared a textbook hit, which would have brought third-and-19. But no. Roughing the passer was called, which seemed curious given that Ryan never delivered the ball. Replay indicated that Worilds didn't lead with his helmet or make helmet-to-helmet contact, so it didn't appear to be unnecessary roughness, either. The penalty gave the Falcons a first down at the Pittsburgh 21. They scored a touchdown to make 13-7 three plays later.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.