The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. the Buffalo Bills with something on the line. Forget “Contender vs. Pretender” status. Ditto playoff considerations. This wasn’t even about relevancy. No, this was about something else.
The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 0-4. After a two game respite, they lost to the Oakland Raiders – a feat that takes a tremendous effort. They followed that by helping Tom Brady rekindle is 2004 form. The Steelers, it seemed, had become the kind of team that other NFL franchises look to when in need of a rebound.
The Buffalo Bills came to town with an 2-6 record of their own. They run the ball well and sack the passer; the Steelers can neither defend the run nor protect their passer. Buffalo was also getting its quarterback back. The Steelers, it seemed, were just what the Dr. ordered.
In other words, the Steelers entered the Bills game fighting for nothing less than their self-respect.
SOS – Same Old Steelers in the First Quarter
Self respect would not come easy for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who began the game by moving the ball down the line in workman like fashion, until Ben Roethlisberger threw a horrible pass that Jarius Byrd picked off and return 57 yards to the Steelers 29. (Kudos the Markus Wheaton for the hustle he showed in making the stop.)
- Yes, Steelers Nation, we have seen this movie before.
- The Bills moved the ball swiftly to the 1 yard line, and for the first seven minutes Pittsburgh looked destined to be Buffalo’s punching bag.
But the Steelers defense dug in, and forced the Bills to settle for 3.
The script however changed little from there. Not only did the Steelers go 3 and out on their next two drives, these were bookended by Mat McBriar punts of 27 and 36 yards. Yes, the Steelers defense held on each of them. But it was a familiar refrain, Steelers offense can’t move the ball, giving the opponent short fields and forcing the Steelers offense to work with longer ones.
If Style Points Only Counted…
The performance of the Steelers offense in the next quarter, and the rest of the game for that matter, can hardly be termed “dominant.”
- Dominant offenses do not settle for 3 field goals in 5 trips to the Red Zone.
But if the Steelers didn’t win any points for artistic merit or technical execution, there was something present vs. the Bills that had been missing in previous weeks.
Both execution errors and simple talent deficiencies have plagued the Steelers in their six losses. Yet the Steelers woes have gone deeper. With each passing week, the Steelers appeared to find new ways to hand opportunities to their opponents while failing to take advantage of chances handed to them.
- The Steelers offense, flawed as it was, managed to break from that rut vs. the Bills.
The Steelers converted 2 consecutive 3rd and 1 situations on their first drive of the second quarter. This is hardly monumental feat but such plays have been in short supply thus far. On the same drive, Emmanuel Sanders took what looked to be a broken reverse and ran 25 yards down the field. That drive netted the Steelers first field goal.
On the Steelers next drive, with Ben Roethlisberger about to be sacked from the Steelers 16 yard line, Le’Veon Bell took a broken play 34 yards right up the middle. That play, and a 24 yarder to Antonio Brown, set up Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
- The Steelers special teams also showed they could do their part.
Pittsburgh’s second drive of the 2nd half opened with a 24 yard punt return. Later, when things looked to stall, the Steelers field goal unit used a hard count to draw Buffalo off sides. Two plays later the Steelers rammed the ball down the throats of the Bills defenders to score the final touchdown of the afternoon.
Despite the flawed execution and sloppy style, the Steelers offense achieved something simple vs. the Bills – they managed to find ways to make plays in critical situations to set up the win.
Steelers Defense Defends Honor
Unlike its counterparts on offense, the Steelers defense not only turned in a strong performance, but it played with attitude that had been absent vs. the Patriots in what would be franchise’s defensive worst-performance.
Fortunately, each an every member of the defense took it personally. And that’s evident in both ways that do and don’t show up on the stat sheet.
- William Gay, a cornerback led the team with in tackles, with two for losses
- Nearly every running play, regardless if it gained yards, ended with the defender moving backwards
- EJ Manuel looked dazed and confused, as the Steelers held him to 3-14 on third downs
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The 4th quarter vs. the Patriots was a nightmare for the Steelers defense that Steelers Nation will never forget. Yet, vs. Bills the Steelers defense wrote a different tale, as this sequence suggests:
- Ryan Clark intercepted Manuel’s first pass of the 4th quarter, and returned it 37 yards
- Manuel completed his next one to C.J. Spiller, but Troy Polamalu stopped him for no gain
- Jarvis Jones sacked Manuel on his next drop back
- Cameron Heyward sacked Manuel on the very next play
And for the record, Antonio Brown returned the ensuring punt for 50 yards.
Granted, they weren’t defending Tom Brady or Calvin Johnson, but the Steelers defense dominated, to the point of securing two turnovers on the Bills final drive only to lose both due to poor officiating.
Road From Here for the 2013 Steelers
In spite of all the positives, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-6, and they “improved” to this mark at the expense of a 2-7 team. Their weaknesses still outweigh their strengths. They’ve mastered several lessons in the art of learning to lose and the burden of proof is on them to prove otherwise.
Defeating the Bills didn’t change any of that, but the victory did allow them to win back some self respect, a necessary step to winning anything else.
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