If you harbored any hope that the Buffalo Bills could make a push toward playoff contention in the second half of the 2013 season, their 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday very likely extinguished those positive feelings with the same effect as a cold shower.
The performance of EJ Manuel and the Bills' offense was the story of the day. In his first start following a month off with a knee injury, Manuel was brutal, only cracking 100 passing yards late in the fourth quarter when the Steelers had a 20-point lead, and looking very methodical and sluggish overall. He completed 22-of-39 passes for 155 yards with a garbage time touchdown, an interception. He also rushed for 17 yards and took three sacks. Prior to the team's final drive in garbage time (11-of-14, 76 yards and the touchdown), Manuel had completed 11-of-25 passes for 79 yards. It was that bad.
Manuel was not helped much by the running game; Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were held to a combined 78 yards on 20 carries, and they struggled in particular on first down throughout the contest. Stevie Johnson also left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury, adding insult to injury. Buffalo's offense will see an unprecedented level of scrutiny this week, and several not-so-fun questions will be asked about the Bills' rookie quarterback. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and head coach Doug Marrone are in for a rough week, as well.
Things were better defensively, but that's not saying an awful lot. Jairus Byrd set up an early 3-0 Bills lead with an opening-drive interception on Ben Roethlisberger, and the Bills also recorded four sacks on Roethlisberger, with Jerry Hughes recording two of those. That's where the positives ended; the Steelers were able to roll up 99 rushing yards by halftime and 136 overall, and Pittsburgh was able to move the chains effectively enough to dominate time of possession. While we're on the subject of players that will be scrutinized, Stephon Gilmore was picked on all day, and gave up a second quarter touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery.
Buffalo was really bad in all three phases, and it showed in what was by far their worst performance of the season. At 3-7, the Bills should be in all-out evaluation mode when they return home to host the 5-4 New York Jets in Week 11.