In a game overshadowed by a report Ben Roethlisberger will ask for a trade this off-season (more about that in a separate post that’ll be up in about an hour), the Pittsburgh Steelers won their third game of the season by defeating the Buffalo Bills 23-10. Trade rumors weren’t the only thing swirling as a cold and blustery day in the ‘Burgh convinced close to 10,000 fans to skip the trek to Heinz Field and stay in their nice wind-free home. They didn’t miss much as the game itself was a dull affair between two of the NFL’s bottom-feeders. Welcome to the Mike Tomlin Era.
As usual, the Steelers got off to a rocky start. They moved the ball 44 yards on their opening drive before Big Ben was picked off on a horrendous deep ball to returning rookie Markus Wheaton. Three and outs followed on the next two possessions as the hometown crowd grew increasingly surly. They finally sprang to life in the second quarter, putting together a grinding 13 play six and a half minute drive that resulted – naturally – in a field goal after Ben was sacked – naturally – on third and goal from the 7.
Luckily, the Bills’ offense was even more inept than ours. Ben’s pick was returned 57 yards back to the Steelers 30. A handful of runs and a nice scramble by quarterback EJ Manuel got the ball down to the 1 where the Bills’ idiotically called a pass play on 3rd down. Rather than go for it, their gutless head coach opted to kick a field goal. It’d be the last time Buffalo threatened to score until they added a garbage time touchdown at the end of the game.
Of the Steelers three wins this year, two have come at the expense of rookie QBs. Geno Smith was victimized by a strangely conservative game plan. Manuel, on the other hand, has nobody to blame but himself. The Bills gave him ample opportunity to make plays – he threw the ball 39 times – and he absolutely sucked. I’ll give the Steelers D some credit but when you’re facing a QB who couldn’t even accurately throw a short little screen to his running back, you’re not exactly facing the stiffest of competition.
The Steelers D did what they had to do. Buffalo’s vaunted running back duo combined for only 78 yards rushing – again, we caught a break because their dumb coaches insisted on running stretch plays around the tackles rather than attacking our lousy D-line head on. Several players did have very good games, including Cam Heyward, who continues to be an absolute beast, and rookie Jarvis Jones, who recorded his first NFL sack after coming on in relief of an injured LaMarr Woodley. The secondary rebounded from last week’s torching by limiting Manuel to 155 yards and added a pick by Ryan Clark, which I’m sure he’ll mention in 27 different interviews this week.
After forcing a punt, the Steelers closed out the first half with a nice TD drive that was started with one of Ben’s patented sandlot style plays where he shoveled a pass to Le’Veon Bell as he was being sacked and the Future Hall of Famer took it 34 yards. Antonio Brown would add a 24 yard catch to bring the Steelers inside the 5 where Jerricho Cotchery would make a nice over-the-shoulder grab to finish it off. While the Cotch Rocket had the game’s only receiving TD, yesterday was definitely a showcase for AB. Not only did he repeatedly torch the Bills secondary to the tune of 6 catches for 104 yards but he had two fantastic punt returns of 24 and 50 yards.
A 40 yard reception by Brown got the Steelers started early in the third quarter. A handful of runs by Bell and the score was 17-3. While Manuel continued to fling passes at his receiver’s shoe tops, the Steelers could only manage to tack on a field goal coming off Clark’s interception as the game quickly devolved in a punting battle. And not even a good one as both punters struggled to kick into the gusty wind. Then again, Mat McBriar uncorked some lousy punts last week in serene conditions so perhaps he’s just lousy at his job.
Maybe I should rename this blog, “Where Have You Gone, Josh Miller?”
While the Steelers and Bills were battling over who could suck the least, the Cincinnati Bengals continued their run as the luckiest team in the NFL by pulling off the damnedest Hail Mary play you’ll ever see to tie their game against Baltimore. Of course, the Bungles being the Bungles, overtime insanity by Marvin Lewis led to the Ratbirds eventual victory. My prediction that the dumpster fire that is the AFC North will be won by a 9-7 team is still very much alive.
Of course, none of this concerns the Steelers because they aren’t going to get to nine wins. They won’t even duplicate last year’s 8-8 effort. All yesterday’s win did was hurt their eventual draft position. And if they’re shopping for a quarterback, that’s especially bad.