Steelers starters sharp again in romp over Falcons

PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown's youthful exuberance cost the Pittsburgh Steelers 15 yards on Saturday night.

If the second-year wideout keeps producing the way he did in a 34-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons, they can live with the growing pains.

Brown continued his electrifying preseason, catching four passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, serving notice Mike Wallace isn't the only gamebreaker on the defending AFC champions.

"It's just preseason and this game doesn't count," Brown said. "I'm doing some great things but it's not the end of the world. You just want to continue to work hard and build and stay focused."

Particularly when you're running into the end zone. Brown drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting when he pointed the ball at a pair of defenders while finishing off a 77-yard catch and run for a score. The flag didn't even include a somewhat awkward jaunt into the stands, where Brown appeared to briefly get caught on the fencing.

"I just got too excited," Brown said. "I've got to calm down a little bit ... I've got to be smart."

The flag earned Brown a talking-to from Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, and Brown toned it down -- well, a little -- on a 44-yard score late in the first half. This time he took a page from teammate and "Dancing With the Stars" champion Hines Ward, putting together a little jig to cap a nearly flawless half by Pittsburgh's offensive starters.

Ben Roethlisberger finished 11 of 16 for 214 yards and the two touchdowns as the Steelers scored on four of their six first-half possessions.

"It was not a consistent, dominant performance that we were looking for, or winning by attrition, but we were explosive offensively," Tomlin said. "We made key plays, game-changing plays defensively."

The Falcons looked at the game as a litmus test. The defending NFC South champions moved the ball with ease but couldn't match Pittsburgh's fireworks.

"We gave up too many explosive plays there in the first half on the passing game in third-down situations," coach Mike Smith said. "We've obviously got a whole lot of work to do over the next 14-15 days and that's what the preseason is for."

Atlanta's Matt Ryan squeezed an entire game's worth of action into two quarters, completing 22 of 42 for 220 yards with a touchdown and an interception against a banged-up Pittsburgh secondary missing starting cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor.

Pittsburgh's defense, which harassed Philadelphia's Michael Vick into three picks last week, wasn't quite so dominant trying to contain Atlanta's versatile and high-powered offense.

The Falcons spread the field to minimize the Steelers' vaunted pass rush and Ryan tested Pittsburgh reserve cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and William Gay, who had trouble keeping up with one of the league's best receiving corps.

White finished with eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Julio Jones hauled in five passes for 59 yards and had a potential 49-yard touchdown pass slip through his fingers.

"If I felt like I could run by the safeties, just run by them," Jones said. "If I couldn't I was just going to hook it up. I just felt like I could run by them and Matt threw a great ball to me. I just got to make that play."

It was the kind of play Brown has made a habit of in the preseason.

Considered no higher than fourth on the depth chart when camp began, he has turned into a revelation while filling in for injured Emmanuel Sanders.

Brown scored a 29-yard touchdown against Philadelphia a week ago on a nifty double-move after Roethlisberger escaped pressure. He was so open when he caught the ball he needed to do little more than remain on his feet.

Against the Falcons, Brown -- who occasionally wears a UPS vest given to him by his brother -- delivered in more spectacular fashion.

He started the game with a 51-yard kickoff return that led to a 1-yard plunge Rashard Mendenhall, a mere warmup to what was to come.

Facing third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 23 early in the second quarter, Roethlisberger found Brown running down the seam at midfield. Brown split a pair of defenders and easily outran them to the end zone.

He struck again shortly before halftime, outjumping Atlanta's Brent Grimes and Dominique Franks in the end zone to complete a 44-yard score.

"He's a really good football player," Roethlisberger said. "He's got good instincts."

Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who signed a hefty six-year, $50 million contract earlier in the week, appeared in a hurry to start living up to the expectations. Timmons had six tackles and chased down Ryan's pass that deflected off the helmet of tight end Michael Palmer, returning it 44 yards to set up Shaun Suisham's field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Atlanta later tied it, yet could only answer Brown's touchdowns with field goals. The Falcons rolled up 17 first downs in the half -- but Pittsburgh's defense dug in when it mattered in an entertaining half that is easily the closest both teams have come to mimicking the regular season.

There were no such fireworks in the second half save for a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by Pittsburgh's Crezdon Butler.

Game notes
Pittsburgh backup QB Byron Leftwich broke his left arm early in the second half . ... Atlanta DE Ray Edwards played into the third quarter but failed to make a tackle in his first action of the preseason ... Atlanta RB back Michael Turner was held to 19 yards on seven carries and has just 54 yards on 18 carries through three games.