ATLANTA - Falcons coach Jim Mora often sounds hokey when he praises the character and chemistry of his football team. Those traits are credited by coaches of overachieving high school or college teams, not professional ones.
Yet Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Falcons showed why their coach gushes about them so much.
Without four starters, without a consistent pass rush and without finding their normal rhythm in the running game, Atlanta won 41-38 in overtime.
"It was hard, but we showed resilience, toughness, patience and a stick-to-itiveness that good teams have to have," Mora said. "To win a game like that at the end, I think you put some money in the bank for down the road."
The currency is a win, confidence and a bank vault's worth of momentum heading into a crucial stretch. Atlanta visits Cincinnati on Sunday, the first of three road trips in the next four weeks.
If the Falcons can beat the defending Super Bowl champions the way they did Sunday, they shouldn't be intimidated in Cincinnati, Detroit or Baltimore.
Without defensive linemen John Abraham and Rod Coleman - both Pro Bowlers - Atlanta couldn't stop Pittsburgh's offense. Without suspended guard Matt Lehr, the NFL's top rushing offense struggled.
The Steelers more than doubled the Falcons' yards in the first half, yet the Falcons trailed just 24-21.
They found ways to score. They forced turnovers on defense and special teams and converted them into 28 points. The red-zone woes that plagued Atlanta in the season's first five weeks never appeared against the Steelers. The Falcons scored 27 points in five trips inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line.
"We made plays when it counted," tailback Warrick Dunn said. "We went out and played together, and no matter what happened we just stuck with it."
The lead changed three times after halftime, and the Falcons blew a chance to win in regulation with two missed field goals - the first drew a running-into-the-kicker penalty, which led to a second try.
The Falcons won the overtime coin toss, quarterback Michael Vick engineered a long drive, and kicker Morten Andersen booted the game-winning field goal.
"You've got to win the close ones," linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "You've got to find a way to dig deep and throw that knockout blow at the end of the game."
Now the Falcons need to find a way to get healthy. The defense will need Abraham and Coleman against the Bengals. The health of guard Kynan Forney's shoulder is vital to Atlanta's running game.
After all, the Falcons can't count on character and turnovers every week.
Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424, or email@example.com.