This Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) vs. Buffalo Bills (2-9) match-up was a tale of two halves (and then some overtime). The Steelers completely dominated the Bills in the first half, heading into the locker room with a 13-0 lead. But the Steelers blew the lead and had to keep this game exciting. It actually went into overtime! The Bills, who were predicted to go 0-16 this season, gave the six-time Super Bowl Champions a run for their money.
But it wasn't so in the first half. On the very first drive, the Steelers went 78 yards, with running back Rashard Mendenhall scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run, his ninth rushing TD of the season. He also ran for a season-high 151 yards (the Bills' run defense is ranked last in the league). It was a beautiful 13-play, 78-drive led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that took 7:54 off the clock.
On the second offensive possession, new kicker Shaun Suisham (how glad is coach Mike Tomlin right now for getting rid of Jeff Reed?) kicked a 45-yard field goal, his first since the release of Reed. Then, with three seconds left in the first half, Suisham kicked a 46-yarder after an 8-play, 54-yard drive, making the score 13-0 at the end of the second quarter. All four of Siusham's kicks were 40+ yards.
Pittsburgh's time of possession during the first half was 23:55, compared to the Bills' 6:05.
The Steelers had 18 first downs while Buffalo only had 4 and gained 225 total yards compared to Buffalo's 51. But then big mistakes and even bigger penalties plagued the Steelers during the second half.
The Bills had new life after a costly penalty that will have the experts talking: With 4:45 to go in the third quarter, linebacker James Harrison, who's been fined a crap load of money ($100,000) this season for helmet-to-helmet hits, drove quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to the ground. He was penalized for roughing the passer, and then three plays later, the Steelers defense gave up a huge one: Fitzpatrick hit running back Fred Jackson for a 65-yard touchdown catch and run. The score became 13-7, and with the Bills holding the Steelers' offense to their first three-and-out, the game actually became exciting.
Early in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers got the ball back after Buffalo kicked a 29-yard field goal that made the score 13-10, Mendenhall had the ball stripped from him by safety Jairus Byrd. The Bills took possession at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. Three plays later, it was a 13-13 game.
The Bills' offensive line was suddenly able to protect Fitzpatrick, with the Steelers defense sacking him only once. With Fitzpatrick's quick passing, the Steelers secondary looked completely suspect. Though the Steelers still have the #1 rush defense (they gave up 74 rushing yards), they need to figure out their pass rushing to avoid close games like today's and slaughterings like they experienced against the New England Patriots.
With 11:25 left in the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger led a drive that ended with a 48-yard field goal. The drive began when Mendenhall ran 42 yards to the Buffalo 38. But a holding penalty on guard Chris Kemoeatu took that away (Kemoeatu had trouble with lineman Kyle Williams all game; he was called for holding three times). Roethlisberger made up for it and completed a 26-yard pass to Heath Miller, and, on third-and-17, he scrambled from the 29 for a first down to the Bills' 47.
Unfortunately, receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped an easy pass for a first down, and Suisham kicked yet another field goal, making the score 16-13.
Later on in the fourth quarter, safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a deflected pass by Fitzpatrick as the Bills were driving down the field. It was a key turnover in the game, with 2:51 left in regulation. That interception made it seem that the Steelers would pull out the win. On the Steelers next offensive drive after the turnover, they burned through all of the Bills' 3 remaining timeouts, but penalties on Chris Kemoeatu (holding) and Jonathan Scott (false start) gave the Bills the ball back. Buffalo got the ball at their 46 with just 46 seconds left in regulation. They got to the Steelers' 31 with 7 seconds left, and Rian Lindell kicked a 49-yard field goal.
Overtime was equally exciting, with Buffalo blowing an opportunity to win with about 10:30 left. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a 40-yard touchdown pass in the endzone, which would've ended the game. Roethlisberger then led an overtime-winning drive culminating in a Suisham 41-yard field goal with 2:14 left. Big Ben ended up completing 20 of 33 for 246 yards and no TDs and no interceptions.
But the Steelers penalties (10 for 107 yards) were inexcusable, after being penalized so much last week against the Oakland Raiders. But now they're are 8-3, and with a big Sunday night game next week against the Baltimore Ravens. Because of the playoff implications, they need to be far more disciplined. There's no way they can play like that against the Ravens and pull out a win. But, of course, a Steelers vs. Ravens match-up will be one exciting game.