If you would have predicted back in the summer that some guy named Devlin Hodges would be throwing crucial passes into the end zone late in an important Week 15 match-up at Heinz Field, and one of those passes would be aimed at another guy named Deon Cain, I may have laughed in your face.
But that was the reality for the Steelers, as they took on the Bills on Sunday Night Football. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the pass from Hodges, an undrafted free agent from Samford, that was aimed at Cain, a member of the Colts’ practice squad not so long ago, was intercepted with 1:54 to play, thus thwarting a chance to tie the score at 17. Remarkably, Hodges would have one more shot to tie the score with a pass into the end zone, thanks to the defense doing its job and getting the ball back with 1:31 left. Sadly, Hodges’ second pass into the end zone—this time targeting the much more well known James Washington—was also intercepted, putting the finishing touches on a 17-10 loss to a Bills team that clinched just its second playoff berth in 20 years.
It was Hodges’ fourth interception of the night. It was the Steelers fifth turnover of the night. To know these 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with severe deficiencies on offense, is to know that turnovers are only their friend if they’re the ones receiving them.
This Steelers defense is just that good. It’s so good that, if you simply don’t kill yourself on offense, you may actually have a chance even with one touchdown a game.
The fact that the Steelers controlled a good bit of Sunday night’s game and never trailed by more than a touchdown in spite of those five giveaways is a testament to the defense .
The fact that the game-plan included 38 passes from Hodges into the heart of a Bills pass defense that’s one of the best and includes elite cornerback Tre’Davious White, who had two of Hodges four interceptions, that’s an indictment of the coaching staff. And if you want to indicte Randy Fichtner on another charge, you can include one count of neglect of the running game, as the Steelers only rushed the football 15 times all night—including eight by the just returning James Conner.
The fact that the lone lost fumble occurred on first and goal from the 10 with two minutes to go in the first half, that’s an indictment of the execution by Conner, Diontae Johnson and center Maurkice Pouncey, whose shotgun snap was once again low and inaccurate. You can blame Fichtner for trying the wildcat if you want, but like Mean Joe Greene once said, the easiest thing to do in football is hand the doggone thing off. Wildcat or not, that was on the players.
The fact that the first of the Bills’ two touchdown drives was only 40 yards in length, that’s an indictment of Jordan Berry, whose first-quarter punt traveled just 22 yards.
It’s hard to get mad at the defense there, even if it did allow the Bills to keep the drive alive by converting on fourth and six on a pass that came just one play after quarterback Josh Allen rushed for 12 yards on third and 18.
It’s also hard to get too angry with the defense for allowing the go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Kroft midway through the fourth quarter—although, there did seem to be a mix up in coverage between Mark Barron and Terrell Edmunds—and that’s because the defense did such a good job moments earlier by limiting Buffalo to a game-tying field goal following a crippling interception by White that he returned to the Pittsburgh 20.
I’m not suggesting you should totally absolve the defense of blame for what happened on Sunday. However, there’s only so much one unit of a football team can do to contribute to victory—including two more takeaways to add to its season-long collection.
The reality for these 2019 Steelers is that their season is not done. Of course not. In fact, their chances of making the playoffs really weren’t damaged all that much by the loss to Buffalo—even if it was yet another close and frustrating loss to one of the teams that will be in the postseason.
But if anyone is waiting for their offense to suddenly blossom into a potent unit, they’re going to be waiting for a very long time.
Even on their most successful days, these 2019 Steelers haven’t shown the ability to gain much more than the 229 total yards they accumulated on Sunday.
Therefore, if you’re not going to score, don’t turn it over. And if you’re about to score, definitely don’t turn it over—opportunities such as first and goal from the 10 should be treated with the utmost respect and care.
If you’re going to punt, don’t shank it.
This Steelers team has found a formula for success in 2019, and Sunday night should have been a huge does of reality that the formula should not be messed with.