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Buffalo Bills 26, Pittsburgh Steelers 15: Rapid recap and notes

The Buffalo Bills: Confirmed good at football.

The Buffalo Bills’ defense set the table, and the offense brought a feast in the second half, as the Bills took down the AFC-leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. After a pick-six gave them a 9-7 lead heading into halftime, the Bills added two more touchdowns for a 23-7 lead through three quarters. Though the Steelers were able to close the gap with a fourth-quarter touchdown, Buffalo closed out the win with a dominant 13-play, 51-yard drive that lasted the entire remaining seven minutes of the fourth quarter.

Although the Buffalo weather was relatively mild, both teams really struggled to find their offensive footing in the first half. Or, to put it another way, both defenses were focused out of the gate. The Bills’ offense was nearly blanked in the first half—four punts, two turnovers, and a field goal in the final two minutes. The Steelers didn’t fare any better—they punted six times, and did score a touchdown when a turnover granted them the ball at the Buffalo 30-yard line, but Ben Roethlisberger also threw a pick-six to Taron Johnson with a minute remaining in the half. Tyler Bass missed his extra point, and the Bills went into halftime with a 9-7 lead.

As much as the Bills’ offense struggled in the first half, one matchup seemed to be working—Stefon Diggs against basically any Steelers defender. They leaned on that mismatch in the third quarter. On Buffalo’s first two drives, the Bills ran 12 offensive plays—and Diggs caught six passes. Both drives resulted in touchdowns.

The Steelers, trailing 23-7, went up-tempo and battled back against the Bills’ defense, with a 10-play 81-yard touchdown drive that lasted four and a half minutes. Roethlisberger found Eric Ebron for a two-point conversion, and at 23-15 the Steelers were only eight points back from the Bills.

With an 11-1 team hot on their trail, another Bills team might have folded. Not this group. Allen converted a 3rd-and-10 with some nifty pocket movement, then rolled out and drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-5 a few plays later. The Bills weren’t able to reach the end zone, but they extended their lead to two scores with a field goal. Then the defense brought their statement. Levi Wallace (burned for the first touchdown of the night) snagged a deep throw from Roethlisberger and killed another drive.

Is the seven-minute drill a thing? Because that’s how the Bills ran out the clock on this win. A steady mix of punishing runs, timely passes, and smart clock management helped Buffalo close out the game without giving Pittsburgh a chance to breathe.

The Bills are now 10-3 on the season, and Pittsburgh drops to 11-2. In case you were wondering whether the Bills could still be the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the answer is “yes, with help.” Be that as it may, here are some nice-to-know facts:

The Bills play the Denver Broncos on Saturday. A win would guarantee them their best record since 1999.

Injury report

Mitch Morse came out of the game in the first quarter and had to have his left elbow taped up on the sidelines. Per the sideline report, they were trying to prevent the arm from fully extending. Morse went back onto the field and played through the rest of the game.

In the third quarter, Dawson Knox suffered a stinger and headed to the sidelines for a few plays. He was back before long.

Taron Johnson went down with an injury in the third quarter, and the official word was a concussion. Siran Neal walked into his spot in the lineup.

Miscellaneous

  • If it felt like the Bills hadn’t made a defensive score in a long while, you’d be right. Taron Johnson’s pick-six was the team’s first defensive touchdown in 46 games—three full seasons ago.
  • In case you were curious, that last score was Jordan Poyer, on Christmas Eve 2017. He had a pick-six in Buffalo’s loss to the New England Patriots on that day.
  • STEFON DIGGS. The man leads the NFL in receptions, and with ten catches for 130 yards and a touchdown tonight, he matched the single-season franchise record set by Eric Moulds. Reminder that Diggs still has three games left in the season.
  • Josh Allen was on fire to start the second half: 11-of-11 for 125 yards and two touchdowns, as the Bills built a 23-7 lead.
  • Allen finished 24-of-43 for 238 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Maybe not an elite stat line, but he controlled the game against an elite defense. Another MVP checkmark.
  • Devin Singletary was the more efficient back overall, but when the Bills wanted to close out the game they turned to Zack Moss. He finished with 13 carries for 43 yards, and six of those carries came on the final drive of the game.
  • Speaking of rookies, Gabriel Davis caught another touchdown pass, his team-leading sixth of the season.
  • Buffalo gave up one sack in the first half, which extended Pittsburgh’s sack streak to an NFL-record 70 games.
  • Another crazy sack streak, ended. Ben Roethlisberger had made 275 pass attempts without a sack, but the Bills overran him in the third quarter.
  • With ten punts in the first half, the Bills and Steelers tied for the most first-half punts in any game this season. There were also three turnovers in the first half.
  • Third-quarter woes a thing of the past? The Bills had a sterling +14 scoring margin in the third quarter tonight. Of course, before three minutes had passed in the fourth, they had allowed a Steelers touchdown.
  • Following Pittsburgh’s second touchdown, the Bills gave up another two-point conversion. Bills opponents are now 5-for-6 on those plays this season.
  • The Bills faced back-to-back primetime games, and have back-to-back wins to show for it. Nice. Can they add another one before the season’s out?