Despite everything that's gone wrong this season, from poor clock management to failed comebacks, from blown leads to devastating injuries, the Falcons woke up on Sunday morning in control of their own fate. And, despite a brutal loss to Pittsburgh, the same will remain true for another week.
The Steelers (9-5) took down the Falcons (5-9), 27-20, doing so despite a valiant effort from the home team. Atlanta pulled within seven late in the third quarter, and then several more times in the fourth, but ultimately fell short.
In the end, the Falcons' inability to convert in the red zone did them in. Two short Matt Bryant field goals in the third stanza -- one 28 yards, the other from 22 -- kept the score close. They simply weren't not enough.
Not against Ben Roethlisberger and the lethal Steelers defense.
Roethlisberger finished the day with 360 passing yards, 123 of which came from Antonio Brown. Le'Veon Bell had 72, as well, including a 44-yarder in the first.
That big gain wasn't a killer, though, as Mike Nolan's defense held the Steelers to a second straight field goal. Down 6-0, Atlanta had a chance to turn the tide.
But, as we've seen far too often, an errant pass from Matt Ryan proved to be a game-changer. On the first play of the second quarter, Ryan was picked off by William Gay, who ran the other way 52 yards for a touchdown. 13-0 Pittsburgh.
Ryan's day got more difficult shortly thereafter, when Jason Worilds delivered a bone-crunching hit, one that was deemed a roughing the passer penalty. It may have been a questionable call, but it gave the Falcons some much-needed life: Ryan found Devin Hester in the end zone several plays later, and the deficit was cut to six.
Devin Hester and Roddy White each caught touchdown passes and, along with Harry Douglas, did an admirable job filling Julio Jones' void. The trio combined for 274 receiving yards on 22 receptions, exposing holes in the Steelers' underwhelming secondary. Douglas' performance was easily his best of the season.
White's score, a four-yard pitch and catch, made it a one possession game with 10:26 left in regulation. It was also Roddy's 62nd TD in a Falcons' uniform, a franchise record.
However, Atlanta was unable to accomplish much else offensively, and despite an impressive stop on defense, couldn't orchestrate a game-tying drive. A 25-yard strike to Heath Miller with 2:42 left allowed Pittsburgh to run out the clock and leave with a victory.
The focus now shifts to New Orleans, who Atlanta must beat next week to keep its postseason hopes alive.