ATLANTA – Where to begin? Michael Vick put up four touchdowns with his arm. Ben Roethlisberger was unstoppable until he got knocked out. Hines Ward had a remarkable homecoming. The Atlanta Falcons thought they had won it on 56-yard field goal by their No. 2 kicker, but it didn’t count.

And then came overtime. Nope, 60 minutes wasn’t enough to settle this instant classic.

Finally, the second-oldest player in NFL history, 46-year-old Morten Andersen, booted a 32-yard field goal seven minutes into the extra period to give the Falcons a 41-38 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, a remarkable game that could have a defining effect on both teams.

After six lead changes, and with Roethlisberger watching from the sideline in a black sweatshirt, the Steelers (2-4) tied it at 38 with 3:19 remaining when fill-in quarterback Charlie Batch threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ward, who grew up in the Atlanta area and longed to play for the Falcons.

On this day, he burned the Falcons badly, catching eight passes for 171 yards and a career-best three TDs, including a 70-yarder in which he literally ran out of his right shoe.

Even that wasn’t enough. Atlanta (4-2) won the coin toss for overtime and never let the Steelers have the ball. Vick converted on third-and-9 by scrambling away from Troy Polamalu and flipping a 26-yard pass to Alge Crumpler. Five plays later, Andersen came on to make the winning kick, atoning for a 52-yarder that fell just short in the final minute of regulation.

Coming off a near-perfect first half the previous week against Kansas City, Roethlisberger was brilliant again before halftime, going 15-of-20 for 235 yards and three touchdowns. But Big Ben was knocked unconscious early in the third quarter on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Chauncey Davis after letting go of a pass.

Roethlisberger remained on the turf for at least five minutes before finally wobbling to the sideline, then got wheeled to the locker room on the back of a cart. After changing out of his uniform, he could only watch from the sideline.

It was another blow to the Steelers quarterback, his year already marred by a serious motorcycle accident and an appendectomy.

Atlanta thought it won in regulation when Michael Koenen, who lost the kicking job after two games but still handles the punting and long field goals, booted through a 56-yarder with 35 seconds remaining. But Steelers coach Bill Cowher managed to call timeout just before the snap, and the officials waved off the play.

Koenen tried again and missed, but Polamalu was called for running into the kicker. The Falcons then sent on Andersen, whose try was straight down the middle but fell on the end line.

There was still time for Pittsburgh to pull out a victory. Batch delivered a 25-yard pass to Ward and the Steelers raced up to the line to down the ball with 8 seconds to go. However, they lined up in an illegal formation, a penalty that automatically led to the remaining seconds being run off the clock.

Ward slammed his helmet to the turf in disgust.

The Steelers, who seemed to get their season back on track with a 45-7 rout of Kansas City, got off to a 17-7 lead and might have romped again if they could have just held onto the ball.

The defending Super Bowl champions lost three fumbles, and the Falcons scored touchdowns after every one. Atlanta scored another TD after surprising Pittsburgh with an onside kick in the first half.

Vick was 18-of-30 for 232 yards, hooking up with tight end Crumpler on touchdowns of 22, 3 and 31 yards. Crumpler tied a team record for TD catches in a game, while Vick broke his personal mark of three scoring passes in a game, also connecting with Michael Jenkins on a 17-yarder.

The wild game rekindled memories of the last Atlanta-Pittsburgh matchup, a 34-34 overtime tie in 2002.

This time, the Falcons got to celebrate.

AP-ES-10-22-06 1737EDT


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