Brown scored on passes of 77 and 44 yards from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and set up another touchdown with a lengthy kickoff return as Pittsburgh’s starters looked sharp for the second straight week.
Roethlisberger finished 11 of 16 for 214 yards and the two touchdowns in one half.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan squeezed an entire game’s worth of action into two quarters, completing 22 of 42 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception against a banged-up Pittsburgh secondary missing starting cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor.
What the Steelers lacked in quantity of offensive plays they made up for in explosiveness, most of it provided by Brown.
The second-year wideout has been a revelation during training camp. Considered no higher than fourth on the depth chart when camp began, he has thrived while filling in for injured Emmanuel Sanders.
Brown scored a 29-yard touchdown against Philadelphia a week ago on a nifty double-move after Roethlisberger escaped pressure. He was so open when he caught the ball he needed to do little more than remain on his feet.
Against the defending NFC South champions, Brown — who occasionally wears a UPS vest given to him by his brother — delivered in more spectacular fashion.
He started the game with a 51-yard kickoff return that led to a 1-yard plunge Rashard Mendenhall, a mere warmup to what was to come.
After the Falcons tied the game at 10 early in the second quarter on a 10-yard pass from Ryan to Roddy White, the Steelers needed just three plays to get back in front.
Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket on third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 23 and found Brown running down the seam at midfield. Brown split a pair of defenders and easily outran them to the end zone. He jogged the last 15 yards and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pointing the ball their way as he crossed the goal line.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin gave the 23-year-old a mild talking to after the score. Brown didn’t waste time showing Tomlin he’d learned his lesson.
The Steelers were facing third-and-10 at the Atlanta 44 shortly before the half when Roethlisberger heaved the ball toward the end zone, where the 5-foot-10 Brown outjumped Atlanta’s Brent Grimes and Dominique Franks for the ball. There was no taunting this time, just a somewhat awkward jig that would make teammate and “Dancing With the Stars” champion Hines Ward either wince or be proud.
The three touchdowns scored by the starters matched the three Pittsburgh put up in the first half against the Eagles last week.
Pittsburgh’s defense, which harassed Philadelphia’s Michael Vick into three picks in the same game, wasn’t quite so dominant trying to contain Atlanta’s versatile and high-powered offense.
The Falcons spread the field to minimize the Steelers’ vaunted pass rush and Ryan tested Pittsburgh reserve cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and William Gay, who had trouble keeping up with one of the league’s best receiving corps.
White finished with eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, Rookie Julio Jones hauled in five passes for 59 yards and had a potential 49-yard touchdown pass slip through his fingers.
Harry Douglas added three catches for 31 yards and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez caught for passes for 26 yards while engaging in an entertaining battle with Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who appeared in a hurry to start living up to the hefty six-year, $50 million contract he signed earlier in the week.
Timmons had six tackles and chased down Ryan’s pass that deflected off the helmet of tight end Michael Palmer, returning it 44 yards to set up Shaun Suisham’s field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Atlanta later tied it, yet could only answer Brown’s touchdowns with field goals. The Falcons rolled up 17 first downs in the half — but Pittsburgh’s defense dug in when it mattered in an entertaining half that is easily the closest both teams have come to mimicking the regular season.
There were no such fireworks in the second half save for a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Crezdon Butler.
By then the starters on both sides already had their shoulder pads off, including defensive end Ray Edwards, who failed to make a tackle in his first preseason game after the Falcons lured him away from Minnesota.