Coming into Sunday, with a contest between two teams that had a combined five wins, well, you knew it was going to be an absolute thriller. Just kidding. It wasn't. But the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to bounce back from a humiliating 55-point, 610-yard loss last week against the New England Patriots by beating the Buffalo Bills at home. What went through the mind of every Steelers fan at this point? We'll take it.
Ooooooobviously one cannot compare the offensive prowess of smug Tom Brady and the Patriots and the Bills. But still, the spark that seemed to be missing throughout the whole season for the Steelers was flickering with signs of life, with the running game getting (slowly) established, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger bouncing back from a rough start, and the defense stepping up after the atrocity of last week. We'll take it; we'll take it; we'll take it. And we'll take another beer please while we're at it, thanks.
This after fans were calling for Dick LeBeau's retirement. When coach Mike Tomlin was threatening to pretty much fire everyone unless things changed. When there were rumors abound that Roethlisberger asked to be traded by the end of this season (I call BS on those rumors, by the way). The Steelers could have given in to this spiral of insanity, yet they were able to rally and get a win. Say what you will about this shitty season -- with a win by the Baltimore Ravens against the Cincinnati Bengals, the AFC North is still hilariously up for grabs. Wasn't the AFC North supposed to be one of the best divisions in the league? Hasn't this been one of the most bizarre seasons you've ever seen, football fans? The Kansas City Chiefs are 9-0 for crying out loud!
Ahem, anyway, the Steelers were able to rack up 136 yards rushing, which is pretty impressive for a team that has constantly struggled with establishing the running game. Le'Veon Bell had a rather productive day going 22 for 57 yards with 1 lovely touchdown in the third quarter. Jonathan Dwyer had 6 carries for 38 yards, who also made some key third-down plays, while Emmanuel Sanders had a beautiful carry for 25 yards, running all the way across then up the field on what at first looked like a botched play (this run set up a field goal that tied the game 3-3). Big Ben completed 18 out of 30 throws for 204 yards and 1 TD and 1 interception. That interception came on the very first offensive series, and the Bills were forced to settle for a Dan Carpenter 20-yard field goal after driving to the Steelers' 1. Jairus Byrd stepped in front of an underthrown ball and returned it 57 yards to the Pittsburgh 29. All Steelers fans started drinking heavily at this point -- and it was sadly pretty damn early into the game. Ben seemed pretty rattled afterward, going for a couple three-and-outs with a couple WTF passes, but then he and the offense were able to shake it off and get that W in the end.
He was able to rally from that INT and threw a nice 5-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery. That broke the 3-3 tie with 1:55 left in the second quarter. On that drive, Ben was able to avoid a sack by tossing a short pass to Bell, who then ran 34 yards up the field (the type of play that could either end in brilliance or total disaster). Then he completed a 24-yard pass to Antonio Brown, who was able to get all the way to the 5. Seemed that the memory of the interception was long behind him. Please stop asking for trades, if you ever did, Ben. That'd be great.
Also have to give a shout-out to Antonio Brown, who was benched during last week's game due to, well, pretty much not contributing up to his full potential. He bounced back with style, catching 6 passes for 104 yards. He also returned punts twice for 74 yards, including a huge 50-yard return, setting up a couple Steelers drives that ended in points. There was one point late in the game when Brown had more yards than the entire Bills offense. Good to have you back, Antonio!
After allowing a record-breaking 610 yards last week, the Steelers defense only gave up 227 yards against the Bills (yes, I know, Pats vs. Bills, blah blah, but come on, just go with it). Quarterback EJ Manuel (who was born in 1990 OMG) went 22 for 39 for 155 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception. The Steelers were able to score off of that interception, when Ryan Clark returned the ball 37 yards in the fourth quarter. That is sadly something the Steelers aren't all that used to, so it was a pleasure to watch. Gotta love it when the other players on defense rallied around Clark and allow him to run as far as possible after the interception. Would bring a tear to any Steelers' fan eye. That extended the Steelers lead to 20-3 after Shaun Suisham's 37-yard field goal. Seven would have been far nicer, but repeat after me: We'll take it.
The Bills were able to score a touchdown with three seconds left (23-3 would have sounded much nicer than 23-10 but oh well) when Manuel threw a 2-yard TD pass to Chriss Gragg on fourth down. Still, throughout the game, the D was able to stop the run and intimidate a rookie QB. The Bills were just 3 of 14 on third-down conversions, and now they're 17-2 against rookie QBs since 2004. Way to beat up on the young, innocent guys, Steelers! Also of note: Buffalo had come into this game running for an average of 146 yards per game, but they were only held to 95 against the Steelers. Fred Johnson ran 12 times for 55 yards. The defense was even able to sack Manuel three times!
Sadly, there were a couple major injuries as well. Wouldn't be a Steelers game without 'em. Left guard Ramon Foster sustained an ankle injury in the third quarter and never came back. Also, LaMarr Woodley left with a calf injury, and safety Shamarko Thomas got an ankle injury. Hopefully they will be able to bounce back next week, as the Steelers are seemingly running out of players.
Still, like we all need to keep in mind: It was the Bills. The Steelers beat Buffalo for the 10th time in 11 regular season games in PIttsburgh. It was a wonderful win, yet it most likely doesn't solve all the problems the Steelers were facing as they were staring down a 2-6 season. They play the Detroit Lions next week, and Matthew Stafford + Calvin Johnson could make a deadly combination for the Steelers' struggling defense. At least they'll be at home. It should be a very interesting test and should say a lot for the rest of this hellish season.
But as of right now? I've said it a million times before... we'll take it! It's a rare feeling going into the week enjoying a solid Steelers win, so we'll bask in it for now and let the crazy, dysfunctional pieces of the AFC North fall where they may. Until next week!