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Steelers keep pace in AFC North with win over Falcons

ATLANTA -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer stuck on eight wins.

Ben Roethlisberger made sure of that.

Roethlisberger threw for 360 yards, pushing his season total to a career high, and capped his performance with a third-down pass to Heath Miller that clinched the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

William Gay scored off an interception return for the Steelers (9-5), who remained a half-game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North with their second straight win. The Bengals stayed on top of the division by routing Cleveland 30-0.

"We're not a perfect group by any stretch," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "but we're a group that will fight to the end together."

With Roethlisberger, they always seem to have a fighting chance.

He's on a mission to get Pittsburgh back to the playoffs after they missed the last two years, going 8-8 each time. This was his third straight game with more than 300 yards passing, and eighth of the season.

"I'm a guy who never wants to have a losing season," Roethlisberger said. "Eight gets you a non-losing season. We got nine, and we're going for 10 now."

The Falcons (5-9) slipped out of first place in the abysmal NFC South and ensured themselves a second straight losing season. But Atlanta can still make the playoffs by winning its final two games against division rivals New Orleans and Carolina.

"We can't worry about anything other than this week," Ryan said. "We know what's in front of us. We know what we've got to do. We've got to win."

Pittsburgh led 13-0 after Gay picked off Matt Ryan's pass over the middle on the first play of the second quarter, returning it for a 52-yard TD. The Steelers extended the lead to 27-13 with Le'Veon Bell's second touchdown, a 13-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth period.

The Falcons made a game of it, pulling within a touchdown on Ryan's 4-yard pass to Roddy White.

But the Steelers wrapped up the victory by running the final 4:34 off the clock. They converted twice on third down, the clincher coming when Roethlisberger found Miller all alone for a 25-yard completion on third-and-1 from the Atlanta 39.

Roethlisberger completed 27 of 35 and increased his season total to 4,415 yards, surpassing his previous franchise record of 4,328 from 2009 with two games to go. Bell also scored on a 1-yard run, but fell short of becoming the first player in NFL history with four straight 200-yard games in total yardage.

The back finished with 47 yards rushing and 72 yards receiving, leaving him and Walter Payton as the only players with three straight 200-yard games.

Antonio Brown had 10 receptions for 123 yards, also setting a franchise record for catches in a season: 115, eclipsing the 112 by Hines Ward in 2002.

Ryan threw for 310 yards, completing 26 of 37 even though he didn't have his top receiver. Julio Jones sat out with a hip injury sustained in the closing minutes of a 259-yard performance against Green Bay.

Early on, Ryan looked out of sync, most noticeably on a pass over the middle intended for Harry Douglas. Gay stepped in to grab it - and kept right on running until he reached the end zone.

The Steelers were up 20-7 at the half, but Atlanta put together a pair of impressive drives in the third quarter. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they couldn't get to the end zone, settling for short field goals by Matt Bryant.

That was crucial when Roethlisberger guided the Steelers on an 80-yard drive, completing a 26-yard pass to Miller, then a 30-yarder Markus Wheaton to start the fourth quarter. On the next play, Bell took it around left end for the score.

After Ryan's touchdown pass to White with 10:21 remaining, Atlanta got the ball only one more time. The Falcons went three-and-out, and the Steelers ran out the clock.

Starting in place of Jones, Douglas had 10 catches for a season-high 131 yards.

NOTES: The Steelers were held to 45 yards rushing, their second-lowest total this season. ... Bell pushed his total yards for the season to 2,043, eclipsing Barry Foster's team record of 2,034. ... Falcons CB Josh Wilson went out with a hand injury while covering a kickoff. ... Ryan was Atlanta's second-leading rusher with 27 yards on three carries. ... Getting more time at receiver with Jones out, Devin Hester had 85 yards on five catches, including a 17-yarder for Atlanta's first touchdown.

Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press

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