Rookie Conner stars in Steelers’ 17-13 win over Falcons

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Rookie running back James Conner set up
Pittsburgh’s winning fourth-quarter touchdown pass in the
Steelers’ 17-13 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Falcons on
Sunday.

Conner, the former University of Pittsburgh star who overcame
Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a serious right knee injury to reach the
NFL, broke off runs of 17 and 19 yards, leading to Bart Houston’s
6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter.

Conner was greeted with an ovation on the third series of the
game when he made his first carry. The third-round pick busted
off three other runs longer than 10 yards and ended his NFL debut
with 98 yards rushing on 20 carries.

Matt Ryan led the Falcons to a touchdown in his only series and
finished 4 of 6 for 57 yards. In two series during the preseason,
Ryan, the 2016 NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of
the Year, has gone 6 of 8 for 88 yards with a touchdown and a
123.6 passer rating.

Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant played his first game more
than 18 months.

The NFL suspended Bryant in March 2016 for a second violation of
its substance abuse policy. He also opened the 2015 season with a
four-game suspension because of multiple violations of the
league’s substance abuse policy. Bryant, who is still in the
process of being fully reinstated by the league, remains
suspended, but is permitted to participate in all preseason
activities — including practices and games.

Steelers rookie Josh Dobbs targeted Bryant on the first play of
the game, but the offense sputtered with consecutive
three-and-outs. Dobbs, a fourth-round pick, was 10 of 19 for 70
yards with an interception.

Bryant, who had two catches for 20 yards, later fumbled an
end-around, but made up for it with a 23-yard reception on a
drive that ended with a field goal.

Tevin Coleman got the start at running back for the Falcons with
Devonta Freeman previously ruled out with a concussion. But the
Falcons’ primary backfield focus was the competition for the
third running back spot.

Terron Ward, who ran for 48 yards against Miami, was strong again
Sunday. He finished with nine carries for 37 yards and a
touchdown. Ward ran for 151 yards in five games last season.

Fifth-round pick Brian Hill rushed for 14 yards on seven carries.
The former Wyoming product player also struggled in the team’s
first preseason game against Miami, gaining 10 yards on nine
carries.

Falcons first-round pick Takkarist McKinley made his NFL debut.

The defensive end had surgery for a torn labrum and fractured
right shoulder socket in March and was held out of the preseason
opener. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley had 10 sacks and 18
tackles for loss as a college senior last season at UCLA. He is
expected to add punch to a pass rush that features Vic Beasley,
who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016.

WIDE OUTS OUT

Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Atlanta’s Julio Jones, two of the
top receivers in the NFL, sat out Sunday.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin held out Brown for the second straight
preseason game. Brown finished second in the league in receptions
(106) and touchdowns (12) and fifth with 1,284 yards in 2016.

Jones was held out for the second straight preseason game
following offseason foot surgery. Jones, who has reported no
problems in his recovery, has been limited in training camp. The
two-time All-Pro caught 136 passes in 2015, second-most in NFL
history, and finished with 1,409 receiving yards last season.

ALSO MISSING

Freeman (concussion) was previously ruled out in what coach Dan
Quinn described as a precaution. Quinn previously said the injury
is not expected to be a long-term issue. Freeman, the league’s
highest-paid running back, has rushed for 1,000 yards in
back-to-back seasons. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the
Falcon’s first preseason game.

Tomlin held out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the second
straight preseason game. Backup Landry Jones also sat out with an
abdominal injury.

BIG PLAYS

Pittsburgh’s Trey Williams returned a punt 64 yards for a
touchdown in the third quarter. Steelers linebacker Anthony
Chickillo had two sacks. Pittsburgh’s Jordan Dangerfield picked
off two passes, while Quincy Mauger and Akeem King had
interceptions for the Falcons.

INJURY REPORT

Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave left in the first quarter
with a concussion, and linebacker Steven Johnson sustained a
hamstring injury.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host hosts Indianapolis on Saturday night.

Steelers: Host Arizona on Saturday night.

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