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Conner, offensive line shined brightest on Sunday

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The Steelers were able to set the tone by scoring first in Sunday’s win. It looked like they were determined to establish the run game early, unlike last week’s loss where they had to abandon the run game and turn into a one-dimensional passing team.
“We wanted to be balanced, but obviously, we were in the game. Time was not a factor the way it’s been in some other games,” Tomlin said. “We were able to maintain a balance and allow [James Conner] and the offensive line control the environment a little better.”

After taking the opening kickoff, the Steelers tore off a 78-yard drive capped by a Conner airborn, one-yard touchdown. The drive was eight plays and Conner touched the ball on seven of them after six carries for 44 yards and one catch for 29 yards.

“I was just ready to go, I tried to set the tone early,” Conner said. “Anytime my name is called in the huddle, I’m excited.”

Conner racked up 110 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries overall including a 30-yard run. 

“Anytime we move the chains, it helps, whether it’s a two yard run, a three yard run, or we break a 30 yard run,” Conner said. “The most-important thing is to get the win.”

Conner credited the offensive line in helping to clear the way for his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. The offensive line was given a game ball for its performance.

“The o-linemen motivate me. Before the game starts, I always tell them in pregame that they’re the best in the world,” Conner said. “They believe it. I believe it. We acted like it today.”

Cornerback Joe Haden agreed with Conner’s synopsis of the offensive line after the game. He credited the line in helping to keep a seven-minute drive alive that ate up over half of the third quarter.

“That's big time. Showing that they are controlling the line of scrimmage and controlling the clock—that's huge. You don't start clock watching but, when you have a 6-minute drive, and there's only 4-minutes left. I mean, that's big,” Haden said. “It's definitely demoralizing to a defense when an offense can keep getting first downs. For us, watching it, we're like, man, [the offensive line] is in control. That's why coach Tomlin gave the ball to the offensive line.”

Fullback Roosevelt Nix also helped pave the way. On Conner’s second touchdown, which was a two-yard run. Nix turned the right corner and cleared out both defenders which allowed Conner to dive into the endzone.

“Rosie’s amazing,” Conner said. “He let me walk in for a touchdown.” 

Conner also had four catches for 75 yards. Besides the 29-yarder on the first possession, he had a big eight-yard catch to get the first down at the 17 yard line and push the Steelers out from the shadow of their own end zone. 

On the ensuing series, Conner helped convert another third down. He burst through a hole and tore off a 16-yard run onto the 42 yard line. On the next play, he did not even touch the ball but still played an integral part in the drive. He picked up a blitzing linebacker which allowed Ben Roethlisberger to complete a 38-yard pass to Jesse James to the Falcons’ 20 yard line.

Then to top it off, the drive was capped by an 18 yard touchdown catch by JuJu Smith-Shuster and Conner participated in a unique touchdown celebration. Shuster laid on the ground, legs up and pushed the ball forward. Conner picked up the ball and handed it to Shuster.

“I delivered a baby,” Conner said. “It was my first time.”
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