Fittingly enough on a night when they honored their 1974 Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame another dismal offensive performance with some stirring defense.
The Steelers sacked Chris Chandler seven times to dominate the first three quarters, then overcame Chandler's late heroics with two goal-line stands in the final two minutes to preserve a 13-9 victory Monday night.
"Give a lot of credit to Chris Chandler," said a relieved Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "He was on his back the whole game and he kept getting back up."
But after Ken Oxendine ran 6 yards to set up a second-and-goal at the 1, the Steelers' defense stuffed three successive running plays.
Fullback Bob Christian was stopped for no gain by Kevin Henry on second down, and Levon Kirkland blew through the left side of the Falcons' offensive line to dump Christian for a 1-yard loss on third down.
The Falcons (1-6) eschewed the short pass to run again on fourth down, and Earl Holmes and Kirkland teamed to stop Oxendine inches short of the goal line on fourth down.
"I saw the guard starting to pull and I just shot through the gap," Holmes said. "In a situation lie that, you don't have time to think, you just trust your eyes."
Sitting only a few feet away from the end zone, several of the 1974 Steelers a team driven by Hall of Fame defenders Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert slapped high fives in celebration.
"It's hard to even come up with words to say how this feels," Christian said. "We were right where we wanted to be, and we came away without a score three times. We didn't get it done."
But it wasn't over. The Steelers (4-3), unable to get a first down that would run out the clock, took a safety rather than punt out of the end zone on fourth down to make it 13-9.
Chandler wasn't done, finding Tim Dwight for 27 yards to the Steelers' 5 with five seconds left. But, after spiking the ball to save time for one last play, Chandler couldn't find an open Dwight over the middle on the final play that epitomized the frustration of a disappointing team that reached the Super Bowl only 10 months ago.
"I was a little too quick on my route. If I had taken some more time, it would have been six," Dwight said. "You've got to come up with a play there and I didn't."
Henry said, "It looked like pass was a little behind him, and that was fortunate for us."
Chandler finished 20-of-34 for 233 yards, or only three fewer yards than the entire Atlanta offense produced. Mathis had 12 catches for 166 yards.
"I'd trade all of those catches in for one more foot," Mathis said.
The Steelers weren't much better offensively than Atlanta, scoring their only touchdown and the first by their starters in three home games only after Chad Scott's 16-yard interception return gave them a first down at the Atlanta 11 late in the first quarter.
Two plays later, Richard Huntley once the backup for injured Falcons running back Jamal Anderson scored on a 13-yard swing pass from Kordell Stewart for a 7-0 lead that was the Steelers' first in three home games this season.
Rookie Kris Brown later kicked field goals of 51 and 25 yards, making him 11-of-11 to start his NFL career and helping the Steelers end a four-game home losing streak that was their longest since moving into Three Rivers Stadium in 1970.
The Falcons haven't beaten the Steelers since that season, going 1-11 against them and 0-5 in Three Rivers.
The Falcons haven't been the same team since Anderson was lost with a season-ending knee injury. The NFL's third-worst rushing offense was held to six yards in the fist half and finished with 49 yards on 25 attempts. Oxendine had 30 yards on 14 carries.
Defensively, the Falcons contained Stewart, who stayed mostly with swing passes, short throws to his wide receivers and handoffs to Bettis in an effort to limit turnovers. Bettis ran for 58 yards in the first half against the NFL's third-worst rushing defense and finished with 80 yards.
Stewart was 13-of-21 for 127 yards but never once tried to go downfield, completing no pass longer than 26 yards.
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