Do the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a long and storied history? Not really. The rivalry dates back to 1970 and started off with the Steelers winning the five of the first six games until the Bills finally prevailed in 1980. In he next nine games, Buffalo took seven of eight, including five straight from 1986 to the ‘92 AFC Divisional Game in 1993. Since then, the black and gold have an 11-3 advantage. This week, BTSC takes a look at the more memorable games that took place between the Bills and Steelers.
Here’s a brief tale of the tape:
Points: Steelers 633, Bills 509
Wins: Steelers 17, Bills 11
Home Record: Steelers 10-3, Bills 8-7
Shutouts: 3- Steelers 28, Bills 28 (12/16/1979), Bills 13, Steelers 0 (12/12/1982). Steelers 23, Bills 0 (11/15/1993)
Biggest Win Margin: Steelers 28, Bills 28 (12/16/1979)
Overtime Games: 1 - Steelers 1, Bills 0
Postseason Record: Steelers 2, Bills 1
December 22, 1974 - Steelers 32, Bills 14 (1974 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
Things were starting to get real for the Steelers in their quest for their first championship, but they couldn’t take the visiting O.J. Simpson and the Bills too lightly just three days before Christmas at Three Rivers Stadium. It started out with promise as Mel Blount’s 42-yard return of the opening kick allowed Roy Gerela to kick through the game’s first points. But the Bills Joe Ferguson found his burly tight end Paul Seymour for the score and a 7-3 lead. But then the second quarter came and the Steelers exploded for 26 points with Terry Bradshaw masterfully driving the Steelers offense. Rocky Bleier’s first touchdown reception of his career came on a textbook route from 27-yards out to but the Steelers ahead. Great catches by Lynn Swann helped set up three Franco Harris rushing scores and the avalanche was on. The Steel Curtain defense chipped in by shutting down O.J. Simpson and the famed Electric Company offense. Simpson did reach the end zone late, but was held to a mere 49 yards on 17 carries. The win helped the Steelers find plane tickets to Oakland in their stockings and an eventual first Lombardi Trophy.
November 23, 1980 - Bills 28, Steelers 13
This is where the Super Bowl hangover really got debilitating. At 7-4 and fresh off of a huge win over the Cleveland Browns, the injury-hampered Steelers had a chance to put themselves in position for a three-peat. Despite getting on the board first at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium on a 2-yard run by Franco Harris, the Steel Curtain was trucked by Joe Cribbs (110 yards) and the Bills rushing attack for 174 on the day. The loss dropped the Steelers out of a first-place tie with the Browns and Oilers in the AFC Central and the Men of Steel eventually finished sixth in the conference, one slot out of a five-team postseason.
December 15, 1985 - Steelers 30, Bills 24
In a frustrating season full of disappointment, the 1985 Steelers entered Week 15 trying to snap a three-game losing streak and work their way back to finishing the season at .500. With the 2-12 Bills of Buffalo visiting, it seemed like a good opportunity to right some wrongs. But the Steelers were bamboozled by Buffalo early when David Woodley went down on their first series and Mark Malone was injured on the black-and-gold’s second possession. While the Steelers were bleeding, the Bills were believing with touchdowns courtesy of Greg Bell’s 77-yard sprint to the end zone, a 33-yard Bruce Mathison pass to Jerry Butler and Don Wilson’s recovery and return of a Louis Lipps’ fumble on a reverse. Down 21-0, the Steelers finally appeared on the scoreboard with 6:11 remaining before halftime when Louis Lipps found redemption by touchdown reception in the form of a 13-yarder from third-string quarterback Scott Campbell. Then Frank Pollard’s four-yard rushing TD right with :55 seconds left cut the score to six.
In the third quarter, Gary Anderson was good from 26 and 31 respectively. Then the Bills stretched their advantage to 24-20 when Scott Norwood put points on the board after the Steelers stopped the Bills seven yards from the end zone. Gary Anderson’s counter from 35 trimmed the score to just one mid-way through the fourth, but the Steelers defense needed a stop. On a 3rd and 3 and a chance to put the game on ice, John Swain knocked the ball away from a Bills’ receiver and the Steelers had just a little more than two minutes left to take advantage. And they truly did. Campbell found Lipps for 46-yards right off the bat to get to the two-minute warning. A big block by Tunch Ilkin freed Frank Pollard on a 3rd and 9 to get inside the five where Walter Abercrombie iced it with a two-yard run with :47 seconds left in the game. The biggest comeback in Steelers history was aided by Donnie Shell and Dwayne Woodruff interceptions and LIpps’ then-record 15th touchdown on the season. Despite the win, a Cleveland victory over Houston eliminated the Men of Steel from the playoffs, but the memorable comeback with a third stringer leading them to 30 points was a very bright spot in a dismal season.
January 9, 1993 - Bills 24, Steelers 3 (1992 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
The Steelers return to the postseason for the first time since 1989 was a pleasant surprise due to the belief that Bill Cowher’s first NFL season was going to be a rebuild and not a division championship. But the game was marred by Bill Cowher’s decision not to go with the hot hand, Bubby Brister, instead to start a possibly rusty Neil O’Donnell who was out a month with a broken fibula.
The Steelers stopped the Bills on 4th and 1 on their opening drive and were on the prowl at the 12, but Darryl Talley sacked O’Donnell for a big loss and had to settle for an Anderson field goal and a 3-0 lead. Disaster struck with the Steelers driving again only for No. 14 to be picked off by Nate Odomes, Then Buffalo finally got on the board after another O’Donnell gaffe, this time the QB was strip-sacked by Bruce Smith setting up Frank Reich’s one-yard pass to Mitch Frerotte with 1:56 to go in the half. The Steelers were driving deep in the two-minute drill, but O’Donnell is intercepted again at the Buffalo 18. The halftime score read 7-3, but fans were getting uneasy with opportunities left unrealized. The hopes for advancement got even bleaker when Rod Woodson left the game due to a head injury. Without the All-Pro corner, Reich victimized Sammy Walker again and again. The Steelers chances completely vanished when Richard Shelton, in for Walker, made a break on a Reich pass to James Lofton and dropped a sure pick-six. With a do-over, the Bills quarterback went back to Lofton for a 17-yard score.
Trailing 14-3, the Steelers have a chance to get back in the ball game, but the holder, Mark Royals, has trouble fielding the snap and can’t get it down for Gary Anderson to get an attempt at a kick. The Bills add a Steve Christie field goal and a Carwell Gardner touchdown run from the one to complete the rout. Despite a good game from Barry Foster (104 yards rushing) and Ernie Mills (8 catches for 93 yards), the Steelers couldn’t protect O’Donnell from the Bills or himself as the Steelers QB was sacked seven times and was responsible for two interceptions and two lost fumbles. The Steelers would go on to be one of the best AFC teams of the 90’s, but the missed opportunities in this game proved that the black and gold weren’t yet ready for prime time.
November 15, 1993 - Steelers 23, Bills 0
Starting in 1980, the Bills dominated the Steelers, winning six of seven against the Men of Steel. But after the embarrassment suffered just 10 months before in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were in desperate need of turning the tables. Bill Cowher’s team manhandled the defending AFC Champs, possessing the football for nearly 75% the prime-time matchup and outgaining Buffalo 400 to 157. It started out rough for Pittsburgh, as Barry Foster went down with what turned out to be a detached ligament, but third-year man Leroy Thompson (108 yards and a TD) replaced No. 29 on that initial 15-play, 81-yard drive and scored a nine-yard touchdown to put the Steelers up 7-0. Gary Anderson added a 37-yarder later in the second, but teeth-rattling hits by Gary Jones on Don Beebe and a Kenny Davidson blast against Jim Kelly crippled Buffalo even more. Two more Anderson field goals and an Eric Green touchdown, combined with a suffocating defense gave the Steelers their first victory over the Bills since 1985 and sole possession of first place for the first time that season.
January 6, 1996 - Steelers 40, Bills 21 (1995 AFC Divisional Playoff Game)
In the playoffs and looking to get the three-more yards that they couldn’t in the AFC Championship the year before, The Bills, after beating Miami in the Wildcard Game, marched into Three Rivers Stadium leading the league in sacks and the armed with the potent K-Gun Offense. The Steelers opened up the scoring right away with a John L. Williams one-yard run and then backed the driving Bills enough for a Steve Christie miss from 52 yards. In the second quarter, the Steelers received a gift from the officials when Ernie Mills, despite not getting both feet down in the back of the end zone, was awarded a touchdown for the 14-0 lead and from Thomas Moore’s drop of a sure pick of Neil O’Donnell. Three Norm Johnson field goals and a one-yard Thurman Thomas score had the Steelers leading the Bills 23-7 at the half. In the third, things didn’t get better for Buffalo as Bill Johnson and Greg Lloyd bruised Jim Kelly’s sternum on a sandwich hit, forcing No. 12 to exit the game. A couple of second-half interceptions thrown by O’Donnell gave Buffalo hope as Alex Van Pelt and a returning Kelly threw touchdown passes to get the score close at 26-21, but two sacks by Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and Chad Brown combined with Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake and Jerry Olsavsky interceptions of Kelly and a pair of Bam Morris touchdown runs iced the contest and earned the Steelers a trip back to the AFC Title Game.
September 30, 2001 - Steelers 20, Bills 3
The 2001 season opened with a 21-3 drubbing in Jacksonville for Bill Cowher’s Steelers, but they couldn’t do anything about it until their next game three weeks later. Because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation, the NFL postponed all of Week 2, but the Steelers were on a bye for Week 3. Traveling to Buffalo to battle the Bills in Week 4 came with rust, but luckily the Steelers shook that off. The refs flagged the black and gold 12 times for 125 yards, but the defense made up for the large amounts of laundry flying Pittsburgh’s way. There was a lot of frustration when Kris Brown missed a chip shot and the defense was penalized three-straight times for 35 yards at one point in the first quarter, but Brent Alexander and Joey Porter crushed Travis Henry to jar the ball loose. An alert Dwayne Washington snapped-up the loose up ball and raced 63 yards to paydirt and a 7-0 Steelers lead. After a Brown field goal, the Bills would get to the one-foot line, but a penalty and three Rob Johnson incompletions caused Gregg Williams’ team to settle for a Jake Arians field goal right before intermission. In the fourth, the Steelers would add ten more points behind a Kris Brown kick and a Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala 22-yard score with 3:50 left to play. Kordell Stewart went 15 for 22 and 107 yards, Hines Ward caught nine balls for 79 yards and Jerome Bettis rumbled for 114 yards on 22 carries. But the real heroes of the day played defense. The Steelers sacked Brad Johnson four times, scored that previously mentioned touchdown and limited Buffalo to a mere 172 yards total. It was a good return to the playing field for the Steelers as they went 13-3 during a very difficult period in U.S. history.
December 11, 2016 - Steelers 27, Bills 20
If any game is appropriate to use the reference “Saved By The Bell”, it’s this one as Le’Veon Bell (298 total yards) scored three times and broke Willie Parker’s 10-year-old franchise record of 223 with 236 yards rushing in a snowstorm to lead the Steelers to a win in Buffalo over the Bills. The black-and-gold needed saving to overcame three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions on the blustery afternoon. After Bell’s scoring runs of three, seven and five yards in each of the first three quarters, the Steelers led 21-7 going into the fourth quarter. The final score made the contest seem a lot closer than it actually was when Tyrod Taylor added a touchdown toss to Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy scored from three-out, but Chris Boswell’s two field goals in the final stanza provided the difference. While Bell made history in this game, William Gay had it erased in the first quarter when his 25-yard pick-six was nullified after Bud Dupree was found guilty of defensive holding. Having stood, it would have been Gay’s sixth career pick-six for the Steelers and would have broken his tie in team history with Rod Woodson. Nonetheless, the win pushed the Steelers winning streak to four and their record to 8-5 after a rough 4-5 beginning.