The Steelers got some good news before today’s game with the Houston Texans’ victory over the Tennessee Titans. By virtue of that result, Pittsburgh is guaranteed to remain in a playoff position by the end of the week regardless of the result of tonight’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Had Tennessee won, the Texans would have fallen out of the AFC South lead, thus into the wildcard portion, and they would currently hold a tiebreaker over the Steelers.
Pittsburgh can of course avoid any obstacles and achieve their best possible seeding–the sixth seed–by continuing to win. In fact, scoring a win over the Bills would vault them into the fifth seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo.
On the injury front, the Steelers have James Conner active tonight, though his workload should be expected to be relatively limited. He has missed the past three games and almost all of the past six with a shoulder injury. Out with injuries are JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald. The healthy scratches are Paxton Lynch, Chukwuma Okorafor, Isaiah Buggs, Artie Burns, and Tuzar Skipper. Of note for the Bills is defensive lineman Corey Liuget, sidelined with an injury.
The Bills opened the game with possession, taking the kickoff past the 25. A hold, however, backed them up instead. Josh Allen threw into traffic on first down and completed his pass for 11. At the 21, Minkah Fitzpatrick tripped up John Brown on a pass over the middle for eight. On second and two, Frank Gore fought through contact for three yards.
T.J. Watt swatted a screen pass out of the air to start the next sequence. Pressure from both Watt and Bud Dupree forced Allen to ground the ball. Now third and five after a neutral zone infraction on Watt, Allen lofted a pass up to David Singleterry, who was stopped by Mark Barron well short of the first.
Diontae Johnson back to return the punt fielded it at the 17 with a fair catch.
Conner got the first touch of the game for the offense for 15 yards. At the 32, it was Conner again, but for two. Incomplete from Devlin Hodges to Johnson set up a third and long early. Hodges had time to throw and found Johnson on the left sideline. Now at the 45, empty backfield, Hodges threw over the middle incomplete to Tevin Jones, possibly a drop. This time Conner took a direct snap for seven yards, but a flag for illegal motion on Hodges flanking out to the right. Now second an 15, a screen to Conner, who gained just one yard. On third and 14, Hodges was picked off down the right sideline by Tre’Davious White, the cornerback’s third interception, and the third thrown by the rookie quarterback. At least it was on a deep ball.
From the 25, Singletary was good for four. John Brown added six on a reception with a nice catch. Allen took off through pressure, with Heyward making the tackle after a two-yard gain. Devin Bush made the tackle on second down to set up third and four. Allen had time to throw but couldn’t connect with Cole Beasley, who looked like he had a chance to make the catch for a first. Vince Williams was shadowing Allen on the play.
Once again, a fair catch by Johnson at about the same spot as last time. So both teams holding serve so far.
Benny Snell picked up maybe two yards from the 18. Johnny Holton was stuffed for a loss by White on a screen pass, but the corner injured himself on the play. That’s a big, big deal if he misses time. On third and long, with no White, Hodges was under quick pressure, forcing him to get the ball out quickly to Nick Vannett for no gain. Jaylen Samuels missed picking up the correct blitzer. Jordan Berry shanked the punt pretty badly with a 22-yard punt at the Steelers’ 40.
Allen was buried for the sack by a legion of Steelers, Williams I believe getting the primary credit. Watt and Tyson Alualu were also there. Watt may have gotten there first. Now second and 18, John Brown dropped a ball that would have been a first down. The Bills’ receivers are doing their young quarterback no favors tonight. On third and 18, Allen scrambled to try to get into field goal range. The ball came out, but he was down by contact at the 37. The offense stayed out on fourth and six, completing to Brown for the first down.
Now at the 26, Singletary ran laterally a lot for one yard. After another first down to the 16, they got to the one after a timeout. Running hurry-up, Allen kept it himself for the touchdown, his ninth on the ground this season. The Steelers are now behind 7-0 early after a bad punt and a fourth-down conversion on the drive.
Off a short kickoff, Kerrith Whyte returned the punt out to the 28. Out of a good pocket, Hodges hit James Washington for a deep ball, connecting for 35 yards. At the Bills’ 38, Buffalo was offside. Whyte got the carry for about five yards for the first.
Samuels was completely buried for a loss of several yards out of the wildcat. Now second and 13, Hodges was under pressure and had to get rid of the ball. On third and long, his pass fell into an empty spot of the field, unclear whom the intended target was. Chris Boswell came on to attempt a long field goal from 49 yards, easily good to put Pittsburgh on the board, 7-3.
Brown was good for about eight on first down, Steven Nelson forcing him out of bounds. Singletary was given two yards on the ensuing carry for a first. Another quick catch and tackle for six for Brown against Nelson. Singletary got about seven as the Bills approach midfield. He added two to the 50. Allen overthrew his man on second down. Now third and long, Heyward batted down the pass, with Dupree pressuring.
The Bills’ third punt of the game was fielded at the 13, returned to about the 27 by Johnson.
Conner was held to no gain on first and second down, putting their rookie quarterback well behind the chains yet again. Hodges was chased by a free rusher up the middle he was forced to spin out of pressure and just get the ball out. A completely ineffective drive there, three plays for zero yards. Berry’s punt was fielded at the 17, but returned nearly 20 yards. The Steelers got a break with a penalty on the return, however due to an illegal block in the back.
Backed up to the 18 now, Singletary was limited to three yards. Bush got him for a loss on second down. Now third and eight, Dupree would have had a sack if he wasn’t offside. On third and three, Allen completed for a first down, but the officials this time missed a false start on the left tackle. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
At the 32, Fore picked up about five yards. They lost that on a false start this time. Now second and 10, Steven Nelson got himself his first interception of the season off of a deflection on a pass intended for Beasley. I believe they retake the league lead in turnovers with that ball.
The Steelers now at the 20, Whyte was lucky to get just to the 19, but a flag on the play was thrown for a facemask penalty, making it half the distance to the goal. That was a bad call, the Steelers getting a break there. Of course, the offense fumbled the ball away at that point. Conner fielded a low snap off the ground, trying to hand it off to Johnson, who lost the ball with a defender coming from behind him.
Now the Bills have the ball on their own nine. Singletary was tackled by Terrell Edmunds after four. He somehow was able to wrestle his way through the defense for five to make it third and inches. They picked up the first to end the half.