Defense makes winning a breeze for Steelers
PITTSBURGH – You can hold off on the eulogy for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers aren’t quite dead yet. The season might be on life support, but the team showed it still has a pulse.
The Steelers rushed for 136 yards at a wind-swept Heinz Field and shut down Buffalo’s vaunted running game as Pittsburgh cruised to a 23-10 victory Sunday.
“I thought the defense was game today,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “A lot of quality efforts by a lot of people.”
For a defense that had allowed 197 rushing yards in back-to-back games, both losses, those efforts were welcomed as the Steelers improved to 3-6.
Buffalo (3-7), which was averaging 145 rushing yards per game, was limited to 95.
The Steelers, meanwhile, rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time in four games. It helped open things up for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“Being balanced is always a key for us,” said Roethlisberger, who overcame a slow start to throw for 204 yards and a touchdown. “We said that we were going to run early and run it a lot. We did that, and did a good job rushing. Elements played into not throwing the ball as much. The wind was blowing pretty hard out there.”
The wind, blowing steadily at more than 20 miles per hour early in the game, forced both teams to rely heavily on their rushing attacks. Rookie Le’Veon Bell carried the ball five times on Pittsburgh’s first six plays as the Steelers moved into Buffalo territory.
After Roethlisberger threw a short pass to Jerricho Cotchery on third-and-five that Cotchery turned into a 26-yard gain by breaking a tackle, the Steelers seemed to be on the verge of scoring on their opening possession for the first time this season. But Roethlisberger’s pass to rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton was intercepted by safety Jairus Byrd at the Buffalo 14-yard line and returned 57 yards to the Pittsburgh 29.
The Steelers’ defense, despite allowing the Bills to drive to the 1, came up with a stop and forced a field goal. The Bills wouldn’t threaten to score again until the game’s waning moments, when they reached the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to tight end Scott Gragg with three seconds remaining.
“We had a turnover, but we went out there and answered the call,” said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who left in the second half with a minor calf injury.
Buffalo went scoreless on its next 10 possessions. With running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller bottled up, gaining a combined 78 yards on 20 carries, the Bills were forced to rely on the passing of Manuel, who was returning to the lineup after missing three games with a knee injury. Manuel was largely ineffective, throwing for 155 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times. Nearly half of his passing yards (76) came on Buffalo’s final drive.
With the Bills struggling, the Steelers finally capitalized in the second quarter, tying the score on a 36-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. They took a 10-3 lead on a 5-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Cotchery, who had three touchdown receptions last week at New England.
“It was a fall-asleep fade,” said Cotchery, who leads the Steelers with six touchdown receptions, matching his career high. “We try to lull the guy to sleep. Once he peeks into the backfield, its’ a touchdown.”
Pittsburgh took control of the game midway through the third quarter, when Roethlisberger threw a 40-yard pass to Antonio Brown, off of play-action, to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Bell.
Clark’s interception and a 50-yard punt return by Brown set up a pair of Suisham field goals in the fourth quarter.
The victory puts the Steelers only two games behind Cincinnati, which has lost two straight, in the AFC North and two games behind the idle New York Jets in the win column for the final wild-card spot. But the Steelers are more focused on next week’s opponent, the Detroit Lions.
“We took a good step today to win a game,” said Roethlisberger. “Next week, we are 0-0 again, looking for our first win.”
Odds and end zones
Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones, defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Lawrence Timmons had sacks for the Steelers. The sack by Jones was the first of his career. … Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas left in the second quarter with an ankle injury, and guard Ramon Foster suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. None of the injuries is considered serious. … The Steelers were 8-for-17 on third-down conversions.