By Matthew Marczi
In a rare turn of events, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves with a 10-3 lead entering the second half. The Buffalo Bills made a bad decision to take the kick out of the end zone, but a personal foul on Jarvis Jones gave the Bills the ball on the 28. He got an earful from Mike Tomlin afterward.
The Bills dropped the ball on first down, and on a second down run, they gained only four. They picked up seven through the air, however, as E.J. Manuel eluded a safety blitz from Will Allen. Fred Jackson had their best run of the day for nine yards on the following play, and converted the first down a play later.
Manuel’s poorly thrown ball on first down was nearly intercepted by Ike Taylor. C.J. Spiller was good for seven to set up a manageable third down. Lawrence Timmons put the Bills drive to an abrupt end, however, with a thunderous sack that Manuel did not see coming.
Le’Veon Bell took the Steelers’ first offensive snap of the second half, which went for a loss of about half a yard. Ramon Foster was injured on the play, however, as he was helped off the field favoring his leg. Guy Whimper replaced him after briefly filling in at right tackle.
Bell gained eight yards off a Ben Roethlisberger pass on second down to set up third and three. Antonio Brown came down with the sharp pass at the sideline after turning back for the ball. A tough ball to defend. Bell picked up the blitz on second down, but Marcel Dareus beat Fernando Velasco to allow pressure up the middle, forcing a throwaway. On third and seven, the Steelers went four-wide, and Roethlisberger was stripped, though the ball was recovered.
The Bills looked to be held to a short return on the ensuing punt by Robert Golden, but instead they held him, which set Buffalo way back at their own eight. Manuel found Stevie Johnson off a play-action for a nice gain on first down, however, and Taylor got the worst of it, though he only missed a play.
Fred Jackson fell down on a reception a play later, but was able to get up to gain one yard. Timmons held tight end Scott Chandler short of the first down to set up third and short. It appeared the Bills converted, but the officials ruled, correctly, that the receiver bobbled the ball as it hit the ground. Brown had a nice return on the punt that looked like it had a chance to break.
On the first play after the punt, Brown was left open in the middle of the field and juked the cornerback for yards after the catch, down to the 18. Bell was good for about five yards on the first play in the red zone. A two-yard gain set up third and three, with Roethlisberger back to pass. The pass was incomplete intended for Brown in the end zone. The Steelers were looking for pass interference, but there was no call.
The Bills, however, were flagged for encroachment on the field goal attempt, giving the Steeelers first and goal. Again in the air, Brown took a screen pass just a couple yards to get within the five-yard line. On second and goal, Bell, led by Mike Adams, punched it into the end zone from four yards out for his fourth touchdown of the season.
Jarvis Jones was forced into the lineup with LaMarr Woodley exiting due to a calf injury. Spiller was able to get the edge on him on first down. Troy Polamalu broke up a first down pass to force a third and three. Manuel looked for Johnson deep on third down, but the pass was overthrown.
After a holding penalty on the punt return, the Steelers took over on their own 26. After a short gain and a hard pass dropped on a tight end screen, however, Pittsburgh was quickly in third and nine. On third down, he was sacked by pressure right up the middle as he was in the grasp of the defenders.
Manuel took a second-down handoff himself to run for a first down into Steelers territory. After mustering just five yards on two carries, however, Manuel’s third down pass was only reeled in out of bounds to force yet another punt.
Felix Jones gave Bell a breather on the ensuing drive, taking a first down carry two yards. He picked up four on second down to set up third and four. Roethlisberger found Emmanuel Sanders crossing the middle of the field for the first down.
Jonathan Dwyer exploited a big hole in the middle of the line to burst for a 17-yard gain, but as has happened so often this season, he followed up on the next play with a loss. On third and 11, Kelvin Beachum was beaten for a sack by Jerry Hughes, his second of the game.
After the Steelers played “Renegade”, Jason Worilds was able to get pressure on Manuel, who forced a poor pass that was intercepted by Ryan Clark and returned deep into Bills territory. Bell was dropped for a total of five yards on first and second down, however. Roethlisberger’s pass into the end zone was incomplete, settling for a field goal to take a 20-3 lead.
The kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Bills the ball at the 40, but a run for no gain and Jones’ first career sack set up third and 17. Cameron Heyward finished off Manuel for his second sack of the season. Brown returned the ensuing punt 50 yards to the Bill’s 11.
On first down, Bell picked up one yard after a bit of hesitation. He picked up five to set up third and four from the five. The Bills had good coverage on Heath Miller in the end zone, however, forcing the Steelers to settle for a third Shaun Suisham field goal. With less than five minutes to play, the 23-3 score is looking insurmountable at this point.
The Bills sensed that as well, as they slowly grinded out the clock with underneath passes. By the two-minute warning, Buffalo was still on just the Pittsburgh 27. After the break, Manuel did hit on a pass beyond 10 yards, but there were offsetting penalties, resulting in no play.
Manuel followed that with a four-yard pass inbounds, and then a six-yard pass, also inbounds. From the 17, Jackson was able to break for 11 after two defenders collided. On first and goal, Manuel was under heavy pressure and tossed the ball on the ground for a fumble, with Heyward picking it up for the turnover, ending the game. Worilds put the hit on the rookie quarterback, which spilled the ball out.
The call, however, was overturned on review, and with an unnecessary roughness penalty being assessed on the return, the ball was moved to the three. The Steelers blitzed a defensive back once again, and Manuel tossed a ball for a fade route with nobody there. The officials ruled it intentional grounding.
On second down, Worilds nearly notched a sack, but the pass was completed to the five. Taylor held the third-down pass short of the end zone as well. In an utterly meaningless display, however, Manuel finally found a receiver in the front of the end zone for the score with three seconds left, making it a 23-10 game, which was the final score that did not reflect how soundly the Bills were beaten.