If you jump out to a 13-point lead and dominate time of possession against a two-win team, most fans would think it would be a blowout. The Buffalo Bills, however, showed a lot of fire and heart in the second half to fight back and force the Steelers into overtime.
There were plenty of missed opportunities in overtime. Leodis McKelvin ran the opening kickoff back to midfield, but his own man knocked him to the ground, preventing a possible touchdown return.
Steve Johnson dropped his fifth pass of the game despite being hit perfectly in stride.
The Bills nearly forced a Ben Roethlisberger fumble at the 1-yard line, but a 65-yard punt by Dan Sepulveda from the end zone flipped field position and momentum.
A strong running game drove the Steelers down and allowed Shaun Suisham to kick his fourth field goal of the game, letting the Steelers escape with a narrow 19-16 victory.
Let’s see how the units stacked up.
Ben Roethlisberger managed the game well in this one. The game plan called for a heavy dose of running the ball, so I’m not surprised he didn’t do more in this game.
He didn’t throw any touchdowns, but most importantly, he didn’t turn it over, either. One of the biggest plays of the game was when he scrambled away from the defense to run 18 yards for a big third-down conversion.
They kept mentioning how Roethlisberger had a foot injury, but he seemed to fight through it pretty well. Not his best performance of the year, but he still did enough to help the Steelers get a victory.
Running Backs: A-
The only knock against the running game for this one was a crucial fumble by Rashard Mendenhall. It gave the Bills a lot of momentum and led to a field goal in a game in which points were crucial.
Other than that one negative, he ran hard all game, saw the holes and made the most out of what was given to him, finishing the day with 151 yards and a touchdown. Isaac Redman added 25 tough yards in crucial short yardage situations, especially on the final game-winning drive. Let’s not forget Big Ben’s epic 18-yard scramble for a key third-down conversion.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
The receivers made some big plays early on, as the Steelers converted their first four third downs via the air.
Hines Ward had seven catches for 107 yards but was mostly nonexistent in the second half. Mike Wallace didn’t have his customary big play for a touchdown like we’ve seen in the past. Emmanuel Sanders had a horrible drop on third down despite being hit perfectly in stride. Though given the drops Steve Johnson had for the Bills, I’ll take it.
As I mentioned while grading the running backs, the Steelers chose to emphasize the run instead of the pass, so all in all I think the Steelers receiving corps didn’t do too bad of a job.
Offensive Line: B-
The focus of the game was to dominate the Bills and run the ball. Given how Mendenhall did in this game, you could say mission accomplished. However, the holding penalties on Chris Kemoeatu really killed a lot of Steeler momentum in the second half and nearly ended up costing the Steelers the W.
Ben Roethlisberger really made a lot of plays after a breakdown in protection, his specialty, so that might hide a lot of the warts of this line.
Is it really shocking, though, considering how beat up they are at the position? I’ll go easy on them, in light of that.
Defensive Front Seven: B
The final stats show Fred Jackson ended the day with 59 yards rushing, but he averaged 4.9 yards a carry. Throw in a 65-yard screen pass in which Jackson forced a lot of missed tackles, and I don’t know that the front seven did as good of a job as usual.
They had two sacks, one by James Farrior and one by James Harrison, but a major turning point in the game was the personal foul on Harrison for leading with the crown of his helmet. The defense clearly played with less intensity for the rest of that drive and for most of the game, thereafter. It gave life to the Bills. I need to review the play more closely, but if it was truly another helmet-to-helmet hit, Harrison may have a hard time avoiding a suspension from the league, given how many times in the past few weeks he has been fined for this type of play.
I’m going to put an asterisk next to this one because this grade should have been a lot worse. Steve Johnson’s five drops, including a killer in the end zone, should have flipped the game in favor of the Bills. It’s a good thing he doesn’t take things too seriously.
Having said that, Troy Polamalu was a beast out there, making hard hit after hard hit to separate the receiver from the ball. His goal-line interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick was likely a game saver. Ike Taylor was also strong in coverage all day long.
Special Teams: B-
This one is tough to call because there were some big plusses but also some huge minuses. I’ll err to the side of a positive, given the end result.
First, let’s start with the positives. Shaun Suisham converted all four field goals on the day and is a big reason why the Steelers are heading out of Buffalo victorious this evening. Dan Sepulveda’s 55-yard punt from the very back of the end zone got the Steelers out of trouble in overtime. Throw in the forced fumble on the play, which added about another 10 yards, and it was a big shift in momentum for the Steelers.
The negative has to include short kickoffs and horrible kick coverage. Leodis McKelvin likely would have run the opening kickoff in overtime back for a touchdown had his own man not knocked him over. McKelvin averaged 26.2 yards per return, which went a long way to keeping Buffalo within striking distance.
The stupid personal foul by Keyaron Fox that added 15 more yards on a big McKelvin return really set the Bills up well.
This team continues to appear undisciplined, taking stupid personal foul penalties. The holding calls have been drive-killers for a few weeks now, but most importantly, the coaching staff seemed to get out-coached in the second half when the game is on the line.
At least Bruce Arians chose wisely to focus on running the ball against the league’s worst run defense. Many of us armchair quarterbacks might think that’s only logical, but you just never known with Arians.
I think the Steelers could have brought some more pressure in the second half, but we’ve been saying that all season.
I also have to question why you have your franchise quarterback, who reported a right-foot injury, doing a quick kick and punting the ball with that same injured foot. That’s kind of stupid, don’t you think?