The score: Pittsburgh 23, Buffalo 10
The bottom line: The Bills entered Pittsburgh with three wins and the league’s seventh-ranked rushing offense. The Steelers were coming off of two of the more embarrassing losses in franchise history and were second to last in the league in stopping the run. But neither of the teams that took the field Sunday looked anything like THOSE teams, as Buffalo couldn’t muster anything resembling offense, with the suddenly stout Steelers defense stuffing both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller and then pressuring rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel into several second-half mistakes to seal the deal.
It was over when: The Steelers left the door open for a Bills’ comeback by not turning a Ryan Clark interception and return into a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but when the Steelers’ defense forced an amazing ninth straight punt by the Bills, Antonio Brown delivered the dagger in the form of a 50-yard return to the Bills’ 11 (with the Steelers AGAIN couldn’t turn into a touchdown, but Shaun Suisham’s field goal made it a three-score game with 4:34 left).
Play of the day: Le’Veon Bell’s 4-yard scoring run in the third quarter doesn’t look like much on paper, but on the field it looked like Pittsburgh’s first real power running play in this forgettable season with all six offensive linemen moving their men downfield before much-maligned extra tackle Mike Adams pancaked his man three yards backwards with Bell on his hip for the TD.
Player of the day: Antonio Brown caught six passes for 104 yards and returned two punts for 74 yards, accounting for nearly half his team’s yardage on the afternoon.
+ By now, most realize the big NFL Network “scoop” on a potential Ben Roethlisberger was much ado about little. In fact, the story was generally misrepresented by other media all day Sunday. In short, the report said Roethlisberger was incredibly frustrated with the Steelers’ offensive direction, that an anonymous Steelers source expected the quarterback to seek a trade and that the team expected to field offers for him, having already fielded one such offer before last year’s draft. That’s it. The end. Not much to it. But to think the story was “made up” and there’s nothing to it is naïve. Rappoport is as legit as any national sports insider so someone in the Steelers office floated that information. Why? Hard to say since the source was granted anonymity. Since common sense tells you that the Steelers aren’t having in-depth discussions about trading their franchise quarterback during Week 9 of the current season, we’ll just add a few tidbits to the discussion. Those dismissing the mere idea of a trade (as Rich Gannon did during the CBS broadcast) are either not familiar enough with or not willing to admit the depth of problems the Steelers currently face. That said, a Roethlisberger trade could only be blockbuster with a capital B and could only happen if Pittsburgh was lined up to bring in a player with a Andrew Luck-like pedigree. Also, on the matter of the insurmountable cap hit involved in a Roethlisberger trade, we’d note the details of the trade likely could take care of a portion (though certainly not all) of it and the rookie wage scale for a Top 5-type QB (something that didn’t exist when Pittsburgh picked Roethlisberger) would also factor into the mathematics.
+ We’ve consistently chided the Steelers braintrust this season for not correcting recurring mistakes, so we’d be remiss in not noting that 10 weeks after they cut Jon Dwyer, someone finally realized he should be the team’s short-yardage back.
+ If you’re waiting to see “more” from Le’Veon Bell -- more speed, more elusiveness, more moves – you can stop now. Running back is the most easily adaptable college-to-pro position. Pass protection is really the only trait that can be significantly “learned” after turning pro. What you’ve seen from Bell so far is what you’re going to get for the next four years. That doesn’t mean Bell is a bust. That means he is what we’ve seen: Patient, sure-handed, usually decisive. At his best, he looks somewhat like Eddie George. To be at his best, he’s going to need seams to hit with his one-cut style. Those seams have to come from a cohesive blocking scheme and talented, smart offensive linemen. There’s the rub.
+ Let’s not get too carried away with that win as Pittsburgh did many of the same things (careless quarterback turnovers, poor punting, sieve-like pass protection) that better teams capitalized on in their six losses. The Steelers defense did LOOK better Sunday. If they can repeat that performance next week against the Lions, we’ll upgrade that to say they PLAYED better.
+ Replay showed a first-quarter pass interference call on Bill Gay was probably unwarranted, as the ball was beyond the receiver before the contact. But, the contact by Gay, a blind charge on a pass short of the sticks on third down, was so unbelievably dumb that it probably deserved a flag on general principle.
+ What was a pretty low-key game officiating-wise became a farce for us when Buffalo scored a touchdown with :03 remaining on a play where their tight end started a full second before the snap (and then caught the scoring pass, to boot). Steelers players stood by incredulously as the Bills lined up for the PAT with no flags in sight. Mike Tomlin was livid on the sideline, as well he should have been There can be no such thing as a throw-away play in the NFL, and that goes for officials, as well. Hopefully, Referee Scott Green’s crew will be downgraded over the farce.
Game mismanagement: Not much to cover here as there’s not much game to manage when the other team punts to you on nine consecutive possessions. About the only nit we could pick would be Ben Roethlisberger allowing 20 seconds to run off the clock between the first and second plays of Pittsburgh’s final possession of the first half, which ended about one play shy of field goal range.
In the booth:
+ Marv Albert made an early mention that the game was the Steelers’ 340th consecutive home sellout, but failed to mention more than 10,000 empty seats. That’s called “knowing who signs your paychecks.”
+ We’re all for educating fans about the technical side of the game, but if you’re going to drop terms like “3-technique” into broadcasts, as Rich Gannon does, without explaining them to the average fan, it’s worthless.
Sweet tweet: “@MarkMaddenX: The Bills-Steelers game looks like it’s being played by 106 fans who won a contest.” Blogger’s note: It’s not often that we quote Mark Madden, but credit where due.
Next week: The first-place Detroit Lions invade Heinz Field next Sunday, featuring the best receiver on this planet (and likely a couple other ones, too) and a stout defensive line. The Steelers figured out how to deal with the Jets D-Line so they’ll be OK against Detroit, but what they’ll do about Megatron we can’t imagine.