Well, Pittsburgh Steelers fans got their wish. After two utterly dominant preseason performances to open the year against the Buccaneers and Bills, Mike Tomlin's team completed the hat trick by bullying the Atlanta Falcons on their own turf on Thursday night in their preseason finale.
Of course, context is important here. The Falcons were resting almost all of their starters. Against Atlanta's backup, however, it simply didn't look like a fair fight.
As he did in each of his first two preseason games, quarterback Kenny Pickett marched his team down the field for a touchdown. This time, it was an 8-play, 92-yard drive that included a 35-yard pass to Geoge Pickens that got the Steelers down to the one-yard line before Najee Harris punched in the score.
The carnage against the Falcons wasn't close to ending right here. When the Falcons got the ball for the first time, they lost 11 yards on 3 plays that included a big sack from the former 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, T.J. Watt.
After punting the ball back to Pittsburgh, it took just one minute and eighteen seconds for Pickett to lead his second touchdown drive. The trend then continued with these two teams until the Pittsburgh Steelers held a 24-0 lead going into the half.
At the end of the day, the Steelers cruised to a 24-0 victory against the Falcons. Kenny Pickett finished 4 of 4 for 86 yards and a 118.8 passer rating, while all three of Pittsburgh's top running backs (Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, and Anthony McFarland) each recorded a rushing touchdown in the first half, per ESPN stats.
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are setting the tone ahead of the season
This was once again a team effort (and a good one at that). The Steelers pulverized the Falcons to the point where we knew this contest was over before it started. But as I said, the context matters.
Beating up on backups might not do much for other teams, but Tomlin wasn't about to let his team go into a tough Week 1 matchup against a talented San Francisco 49ers team ice cold. While the exclamation point they put on the preseason almost seemed a bit unnecessary, Pittsburgh's starters would have otherwise had a very long break between games.
Think of it this way: Had Tomlin chosen not to play his starters in Atlanta, they would have had to have waited over three weeks until their first regular season game. That's a long wait and plenty of time to cool off and lose momentum.
Obviously, the Steelers coaching staff still wanted to get a great look at their backups, and there were several strong performances to note. Young players like Nick Herbig, Elijah Riley, and Calvin Austin once again shined.
But this is about making a statement and setting the tone. The Pittsburgh Steelers completely manhandled the Atlanta Falcons in the 2023 preseason finale, and fans are loving it. We will see if any of this momentum carries into the regular season.