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Lack of urgency, unfortunate mistakes cost Steelers their season

The Steelers had a chance

Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills passes against Alex Highsmith #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Orchard Park, New York. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers made it a close battle in the Wild Card up against the Buffalo Bills, but unfortunately, a series of self-inflicted wounds, a lack of urgency and plenty of unfavorable calls by the officials helped put their 2023-24 NFL season to bed. The Bills closed out the game with a 31-17 lead over the Steelers to keep their postseason alive and end the Steelers dream of their first playoff win since the 2016-2017 season.

Things looked grim from the start, with the Steelers managing five plays for 19 yards to open up the game. Mason Rudolph’s only completion on the drive was a 16-yard screen pass to running back Jaylen Warren, but their plays to follow weren’t enough to convert another first down. Punter Pressley Harvin III got his first opportunity of the game at Pittsburgh’s 49-yard line, but the ball traveled just 31 yards to set up the Bills at the 20-yard line. They took advantage immediately, driving 80 yards down the field and ending with a nine-yard passing touchdown from Josh Allen to veteran tight end Dawson Knox.

After trading punts with a hold from the defense, Mason Rudolph completed an eight-yard pass to George Pickens, which was fumbled and recovered by linebacker Terrel Bernard. Once again, the Bills capitalized on the opportunity immediately, as Allen threw his second touchdown of the day on the first attempt of that drive to rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. 14-0, Bills with 4:10 left in the first quarter. Brutal. They follow up the next drive with — you guessed it! — a punt.

Though the Bills punted it right back to set the Steelers up to drive, it all ended with an interception from Rudolph in the end zone. The Bills take advantage with a touchdown to make it 21-0 before the Steelers punt yet again... but on the following drive, there were signs of hope. The Steelers blocked a field goal attempt, recovered by rookie linebacker Nick Herbig, setting up a five-play, 33-yard drive resulting in a Diontae Johnson touchdown — his sixth of the 2023-24 NFL season. After a punt from the Bills, the Steelers closed out the first half with a field goal attempt from Chris Boswell, good from 40 yards to make it 21-10.

Coming out of the half, the Bills managed a field goal on a 14-play drive, and though it was “just” three points on the board, they milked plenty of time off the clock to help their cause. The Steelers answered with a touchdown to cap off a long drive of their own — a seven-yard dart over the middle from Rudolph to second-year WR Calvin Austin. Bills up 24-17 with 10:32 left in the fourth quarter.

Just as quickly as their hope was ignited with that touchdown, the Bills once again answered back with a seven-play, 70-yard drive punctuated with a ridiculous 17-yard catch and run for the touchdown from second-year wide receiver Khalil Shakir. That all but sealed the game; the Bills win 31-17, and just like that, the Steelers’ season is over.

Rudolph finished the game with 229 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception to make his case to extend his NFL career approaching free agency in 2024.

The Bills will host the Kansas City Chiefs for their first road playoff game in the Patrick Mahomes era, set to kick off on Sunday, January 21 at 6:30 p.m. ET.