ATLANTA >> Ben Roethlisberger’s career season just keeps getting better.
Roethlisberger threw for 360 yards to surpass his previous high for a season, capping 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 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.
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 on Roethlisberger’s 25-yard pass to Miller 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 skipped the game 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 a 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.