PITTSBURGH -- Get two things straight right off the bat: The Pittsburgh Steelers 23-10 win against the Buffalo Bills Sunday night at Heinz Field was much needed, but it doesn't mean the club has turned the corner or anything like that.
The Bills (3-7) are among the NFL's worst teams this year, and the Steelers (3-6) aren't much better. Just half a game record-wise, actually, but there is more talent on the Steelers. That was evident during the team's clinching drive late in the third quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on a crossing route, and the slick wideout turned it into a 40-yard gain from the Steelers 42 to the Bills 18. After two short Le'Veon Bell runs and a Roethlisberger incompletion on third down, the Steelers were going to kick a 29-yard field goal. The Bills encroached, however, to make it first down at the 6. Roethlisberger tossed a sideways pass to Brown for two to the 4, and Bell -- with assistance from extra blocker Mike Adams -- plowed into the end zone to cap a six-play, 58-yard drive in 3:03.
The Steelers had a chance to close out the Bills for good -- not that they had too much of a chance to come back -- but when Ryan Clark picked off E.J. Manuel at midfield and returned it 37 yards to the 11, it appeared as though the Steelers could pound in the final nail. Not so fast, however, as four plays netted minus-5 yards and Suisham had to kick a 37-yard field goal.
After Brown returned a punt 50 yards to the 11, the Steelers couldn't punch it in and got another Suisham field goal. This time, it was from 23 yards, as tight end Heath Miller couldn't get both hands on a lob into the end zone on third down. The Steelers had been spectacular on third down earlier in the game, but after a rough third quarter ended with an 8-for-17 conversion rate. The Bills were just 2-for-12.
The Steelers had a chance to end the game with a goal-line stand, after nearly forcing two turnovers (overturned by reviews), but a two-yard touchdown pass by E.J. Manuel ended that hope.
It would be difficult to imagine a worse game being played than the one between the Steelers and Bills, but at least the two AFC also-rans appear to be evenly matched. The teams traded mistakes and field goals during a lackluster first half, and the score was 10-3 Steelers going into halftime.
The Steelers were committed to the run early and appeared on their way to an opening touchdown drive, after a third-down conversion run by Bell and 16 total yards in the drive on five carries, including two from the Wildcat. Roethlisberger connected with Jerricho Cotchery for 26 yards on third-and-five to change field position to the 33, but that was it.
Roethlisberger's sideways pass to Bell, always ill-advised, went for minus-3. So, Roethlisberger looked deep on second down and determined that Markus Wheaton, playing his first game in three weeks after surgery on his right pinky finger, was the best option. He was double covered, and the under-thrown pass was intercepted by Jairus Byrd and returned 57 yards to the Steelers 29.
The Bills moved the ball to the 1, but Manuel's third-down pass was out of the end zone. So, Dan Carpenter had to kick a 20-yard field goal. Buffalo ran off nine plays in 3:54, but the Steelers stiffened on the goal line. LaMarr Woodley made a big play on second down, holding Fred Jackson to just two yards with a solo tackle at the 1. Jackson appeared to be on his way in for the score.
The Steelers rebounded with a nice drive of their own, as Bell ran hard and Jonathan Dwyer powered for a couple first downs on third-and-short. The 13-play, 58-yard drive lasted 6:46 went to the 10 for a first-and-goal. It got as close as the 7, but Roethlisberger was sacked for an 11-yard loss. And Shaun Suisham had to kick a 36-yard field goal into the open end with a cross wind.
Stevie Johnson had a big play during the ensuing possession for Buffalo, a 23-yard reception, but more importantly for the Steelers rookie safety Shamarko Thomas suffered a left ankle injury on the tackle and did not return. The Bills just passed midfield, and Manuel was asked to throw to advance the chains. He was unsuccessful, as the Steelers forced three straight incompletions.
Woodley (left calf) and Ramon Foster (right ankle) also were injured during the game and did not return. The status of all three injuries are unknown, but Thomas' situation did not appear to be good.
The Steelers had been plagued with poor field position since the opening-drive pick, as both punters were horrendous no punt better than 35 yards until a 56-yarder by Buffalo's Brian Moorman late in the half that went into the end zone. Still, the Steelers were able to change field position after stopping the Bills, as Roethlisberger hit Bell out of the backfield for 34 yards down the middle.
Dwyer ran for eight yards on third-and-three, as Adams joined the line. Adams reported as an eligible offensive player, i.e., an extra tight end, 13 times during the first half, including the opening offensive play. On third-and-four at the 29, Roethlisberger hooked up with Brown for 24 yards to the 5. The first-down play was a corner route pass to Cotchery for a touchdown to cap a nine-play, 86-yard drive in 4:48, which gave the Steelers a 10-3 halftime lead.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers thrash Bills 23-10
- Ben Roethlisberger Trade Rumor: Everything we know
- Winners and Losers after Steelers victory over Buffalo
- Ben on rumor: 'It's one of the most B.S. stories I've ever heard'
- Team dismisses trade rumor as 'erroneous'
- LaMarr Woodley injury: Steelers OLB doubtful to return with calf injury
- Ramon Foster injury: Steelers left guard left with ankle injury
- Updated: Shamarko Thomas injury: Steelers rookie will not return to game vs. Bills
- Agent of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger denies trade report