By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers stand at 2-6 after a franchise-worst 55-point defensive effort last week against the New England Patriots. They are looking to turn their fortunes around at home against the Buffalo Bills.
The Steelers won the toss and elected to receive the ball. Le’Veon Bell carried on the first snap for a four-yard gain behind an offensive line that included Marcus Gilbert who entered the game as questionable to play. Bell took a snap in the Wildcat on second down for a short gain, and converted on third down.
On third down, Jerricho Cotchery caught Ben Roethlisberger’s first pass of the day for a first down and then some after shaking out of a tackle. Bell took a pass for a loss of three on the ensuing play. On second down, however, the safety came over on a deep route and intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass, returning it 57 yards to the Steelers’ 29-yard line, brought down by Markus Wheaton. This is the second consecutive week a promising opening drive was ended in a Roethlisberger turnover.
William Gay tackled C.J. Spiller after a short gain on both first and second down. On third down, however, Gay was flagged for pass interference, which netted about three yards. On second down, Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel took advantage of an open gap to scramble for a first down to set up first and goal. The Steelers held after an overthrown ball on third down, however, to force a field goal.
Roethlisberger’s first pass after the turnover went to Heath Miller, which went in and out of the tight end’s hands. His short pass to Emmanuel Sanders lost three yards. On third and 13, he looked deep for Sanders, but it went over everybody’s head with no flag to force a punt after a three-and-out.
That punt, by the way, was absolutely terrible by Mat McBriar, though it was into heavy winds.
The Bills began at the Steelers’ 44, but Pittsburgh held Spiller to a one-yard loss on first down, again by Gay. On second down, LaMarr Woodley nearly had an interception, but receiver Stevie Johnson came back to break up the pass. On third and 11, Lawrence Timmons blew up Fred Jackson well short of the first down to force a punt.
The Steelers, however, came up one yard short and were forced to go three-and-out fo the second consecutive drive. McBriar’s second punt was better, but still not ideal, though it did get the Bills back on their own side of the field. The Steelers came back and forced a three-and-out of their own.
On first down, Roethlisberger found tight end Michael Palmer for eight yards on his first reception of the year. The Steelers turned to Jonathan Dwyer on third and short and he picked up six.
On the following play, the Steelers spread it wide, but with pressuring encroaching, Roethlisberger was forced to rush a pass over Antonio Brown’s head. On second down, Felix Jones picked up nine yards to set up another third and short, with Dwyer checking back in. it took him a second effort, but he eventually converted.
After he conversion, the Steelers went back to the Wildcat, and Sanders took the handoff from Bell, going for 25 yards. Bell carried for another nine yards on first down to get into the red zone. He converted to set up first and goal on second down.
From the 10, Bell was only able to pick up a couple on first down, and was stopped for no gain on second, setting up third and goal at the seven. The Steelers allowed a sack on third down, however, when Kyle Williams beat Guy Whimper at right tackle, who at some point came in for Gilbert. Still, Shaun Suisham was able to tie the game at three.
The Steelers continued their stout run defense in the early goings, with Woodley initially stopping the back and Timmons making the tackle after a gain of one. On second down, however, Johnson got away from Shamarko Thomas for a first down and more. Thomas was injured on the play. Cortez Allen was flagged for interference at the sticks two plays later at the Steelers’ 46.
Pittsburgh quickly got the Bills into a third and 10 situation, however, after a drop and pressure that forced a bad pass. Manuel’s pass for Johnson was incomplete with Troy Polamalu in coverage.
The Steelers remained committed to the ground, feeding Bell once again for a gain of two on first down. On second down, Roethlisberger avoided a sack by dumping off a shovel pass to Bell, who took it a long way to midfield. On third and three, Dwyer was able to find the edge with a good block by Gilbert for another short-yardage conversion.
Staying in the game, Dwyer picked up six yards on the next play. On second down, Roethlisberger threw a low pass on a come-back route to Brown, which resulted in an incompletion to set up third and four. Sensing the opportunity, Roethlisberger called a timeout to ensure the best play on third down.
That play found Brown wide open down the field for 24 yards to set up first and goal from the five. Following the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger hooked up with Cotchery on a fade route for the touchdown, Cotchery’s sixth of the year.
The Bills quickly got a first down on two plays with 89 seconds to play in the half and all of their timeouts, out to the 38. After an incomplete pass, Allen held Jackson inbounds to force a third and six. Gay came up with the stop after a two-yard gain to force a punt as the Steelers called a timeout with 49 seconds remaining.
The Steelers wasted some time with an inbounds screen to Miller, when a conversion out of bounds to Brown. With nine seconds remaining, Brown got another first down, but with three seconds remaining, at their own 44. Roethlisberger threw the ball away on the last play to end the half.