Pittsburgh plays its way in victory

PITTSBURGH — If someone hadn’t seen the Steelers play before Sunday, they may have wondered what all the stress was about.

The Steelers rolled to a 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on a summer-like Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

They ran the ball well. They got after the quarterback. They shut down a high-powered offense. They had a relatively easy time, building a quick 13-0 lead on their home turf.

“We played Steeler football,” running back James Conner said.

They did, really, for the first time this season. That’s why they came into the game with a 1-2-1 record and in danger of seeing their season go off the rails before the first frost.

But on this sunny day, it all worked the way it’s supposed to work. Conner ran hard, and piled up 110 yards on 21 carries. He caught five passes for another 75 yards.

The defense sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan six times for a loss of 43 yards. Half of the sacks came from T.J. Watt. The Steelers regularly got to Ryan from a variety of angles, forcing him to rush his throws.

Roethlisberger completed 19 of 29 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. There was one interception, the result of a horrible decision, but Roethlisberger had an otherwise efficient day.

Maybe the most important thing was two of his touchdown passes were to Antonio Brown. One of them covered 47 yards, and that was Steelers football, too.

The seemingly fragile Roethlisberger-Brown relationship has become such a soap opera that everything is under scrutiny. Roethlisberger had to field a question about a sideline chat he had with Brown.

“I have no idea what it was about because it wasn’t anything special,” Roethlisberger said. “We told you guys there were no issues.”

Brown’s version: “Never listen to what the media says.”

(At least he didn’t say “fake news”).

It was a happy Brown who showed up in the interview room, sharing the table with his five children, all of them decked out in No. 84 jerseys.

The other high-profile receiver in the game, Atlanta’s Julio Jones, was a non-factor. Cornerback Joe Haden had primary responsibility for covering him, and Haden smothered him.

Jones had five catches, and the first didn’t come until the fourth quarter. Jones was not relevant when the game was still being contested.

“Joe is game for the challenge, and Joe did a heck of a job today,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Haden wasn’t alone. Defensive end Cam Heyward said the Steelers carried a solid week of practice over to the game.

“I thought the level of detail really picked up this week,” Heyward said.

Linebacker L.J. Fort did a commendable job filling in for the injured Vince Williams. Overall, the Steelers’ tackling was the best it’s been so far this season.

About the only holdover problem from the first four rocky games was kicker Chris Boswell missing another extra point.

Heyward said that “urgency” was a better word than desperation to describe the Steelers’ approach to the game. Their next three games are within the AFC North, beginning with Sunday’s date in Cincinnati.

“We’ve just got to build on it,” Heyward said. “We got one, now let’s get two. We understand that we did a good job today, but the job’s not done. We have another game next week.”

The template from this one will work nicely.