Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick sealed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 19-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday with an interception with 35 seconds to play.
After jumping a route by wide receiver Drake London, Fitzpatrick returned the interception 16 yards, but he ran out of bounds at the Atlanta 4-yard line when it appeared he could have reached the end zone.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett took one snap for a kneel-down to end Pittsburgh’s third victory in four games.
“I knew as soon as I caught it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I said, ‘I got to get out of bounds. I ain’t trying to go back out there again.’ … We won the game. Go home. I ain’t trying to add to the stats or pad the stats or nothing like that. I’m good with the win.”
Had Fitzpatrick chosen to run those final 4 yards to the goal line, he would stand alone as Alabama’s all-time NFL leader in interception-return touchdowns.
A consensus All-American for the Crimson Tide in 2016 and 2017, Fitzpatrick has returned four interceptions for touchdowns since entering the NFL as the 11th selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. The only NFL player with as many in that span is Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters, who also has four.
During his 11 seasons as the right outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, Woodrow Lowe also returned four interceptions for touchdowns.
Lowe scored his first touchdown in his fourth NFL season when he intercepted another former Alabama star, Ken Stabler, and ran it back 32 yards in a 30-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 9, 1979.
Lowe had a 77-yard touchdown return off the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw later that season, a 16-yarder off the Dallas Cowboys’ Danny White in 1980 and a 32-yarder off the Raiders’ Jim Plunkett in 1984.
Fitzpatrick scored on a 50-yard interception return off the Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins in a 41-17 loss while with the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 16, 2018. With the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has scored on returns of 96 yards off the Indianapolis Colts’ Brian Hoyer in 2019, 33 yards off the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield in 2020 and 31 yards off the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow on Sept. 11.
Fitzpatrick also returned a fumble recovery 43 yards for a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 17-12 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 10, 2019.
If Fitzpatrick had scored against Atlanta on Sunday, he would be tied with Eddie Jackson for the most NFL defensive touchdowns by an Alabama alumnus. Jackson has returned three interceptions and three fumble recoveries for touchdowns since joining the Chicago Bears in 2017.
Fitzpatrick’s fourth interception of the 2022 season was the 17th of his career, which moved the safety into the top 10 on Alabama’s NFL list. He’s tied with Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs for 10th.
With 21 interceptions, Lowe ranks sixth in the Crimson Tide’s NFL history.
Lee Roy Jordan is Alabama’s all-time leader with 32 NFL interceptions. Don Hutson had 30, Mike Washington 28, Mark McMillian 23 and Russ Craft 22.
Deshea Townsend is tied with Lowe, with Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson at 20 and Don McNeal at 18 next before Diggs and Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick knew everyone wouldn’t agree with his decision on Sunday. After the game, he tweeted: “How many fantasy players are mad at me right now? Sorry not sorry.”
Fitzpatrick also led Pittsburgh with seven tackles against the Falcons. He took down running back Cordarrelle Patterson for a 4-yard loss to deflate Atlanta’s momentum after a 37-yard reception by London to the Steelers 38-yard line in the second quarter.
Even though, he’s missed two games with injuries, Fitzpatrick joins Jackson, San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga and Vikings safety Harrison Smith as the only NFL players with at least 62 tackles and four interceptions this season.
The Steelers return to AFC North play on Sunday, when the Baltimore Ravens visit Acrisure Stadium at noon CST.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.