Steelers-Bills: The Rubber Match



The term “rubber match” implies that the Steelers and Bills are even in their last how ever many games, but this would be wrong. The last five games between the two franchises, beginning in 2001, are all Steelers wins, although if instead you go to Rex Ryan-coached teams there are a few Steelers losses in there. Of course, by the time you read this it is possible that Buffalo won’t be a Rex Ryan-coached team anymore, at least according to the rumor mill.

No, the “rubber match” aspect of this is literal, as those of you who watched the game can attest. (Let me say up front that I didn’t originate the expression. I saw it in a tweet which I can’t find again, and forgot to write down the name of the clever guy who came up with it.)

This game is but one of a series of weirdnesses to happen in Steeler games which caused serious delays—think the blackout at Candlestick Park or the artificial turf catching on fire in the Steelers (St. Louis) Rams tilt.

Happily, this weirdness ended better than the previous two. As none of us like to remember, the game at the late unlamented Candlestick Park was a humiliating loss featuring Ben Roethlisberger attempting to quarterback the team with a high ankle sprain. He might just as well have been in a walker. Actually that would have been better, because he would have had something with which to defend himself from the 49ers pass rush. The St. Louis game was a win, but an expensive one, as Ben had to leave the game with a knee injury after a questionable low hit (unflagged, of course.) It was over a month before he played again.

Admittedly, Ben threw three picks in this game, which is sub-optimal. One of them is almost certainly on Ladarius Green, but the other two were vintage Ben. He likes to present the defense with a challenge, I guess. But he was not sacked nor injured, so it’s a very good day.

I found it rather funny, really, although not at the time, when Chris Boswell came out to kick a field goal on a 4th and 5, only to have defensive holding called, giving the Steelers a first down. Two Le’Veon Bell runs later the Steelers had a 3rd and 5 at the Buffalo 7-yard line and Ben threw a pick in the end zone. The Bills got the ball at their own 20 (it was a touchback, as Jesse James, the intended receiver, alertly took down the interceptor.)

On the very next play Artie Burns intercepted Tyrod Taylor. (I’m beginning to like this kid, and will remind you all he was the Momma’s Mock Draft first-round pick last spring, hem hem.) And so, six plays later (all Le’Veon Bell runs, I hasten to add) it was 4th and 1 at the Buffalo 19, and this time Boswell made the kick without incident.

But enough about Ben. It wasn’t one of his better days, and the Steelers seldom win when he throws three picks, not too surprisingly. But it was okay, because it was a good day for Le’Veon Bell. He broke numerous records in the game, including the largest number of running yards the Bills have EVER given up and the most yards on the ground by a Steelers running back. He has now tied Willie Parker with two 200-yard games in his career, and his 298 yards from scrimmage are just shy of Antonio Brown’s record 306-yard game. Pretty incredible.

But as impressive as he was, we can’t forget the guys who made it possible. The offensive line, including replacement left guard B.J. Finney, were awesome. Roosevelt Nix not only had two highlight reel-worthy stops on special teams but paved the way for Bell a number of times. But it wasn’t just one guy or another. It was everybody in the trenches. Did anybody notice the reason Ben’s first pick wasn’t taken in for a touchdown? Maurkice Pouncey tracked the guy down and tackled him. And when all 303 pounds of Pouncey tackles you, you know you’ve been tackled.

And for that matter, we have to give credit to the defense, who absolutely stonewalled the Bills. If it weren’t for the short field after the second interception the Bills wouldn’t have had any points at all prior to 7:39 in the 4th quarter. They got five sacks, and as much as I hope James Harrison continues in his record-breaking ways, I’m really happy that all the sacks today came from the youngsters. The most tenured player to have a sack (or half a sack, really) was Stephon Tuitt, and the others came from Sean Davis, Ryan Shazier, and Bud Dupree. It’s getting to be hard to argue with the last couple of Steelers drafts…

And if you didn’t look closely at the picture heading the article, check it out. Notice the amount of space between the turf and the feet of two of the guys, and notice who one of the two is. Bodes well, I think…

But there’s more. The defense also held the Bills, who don’t forget came into the game with by far the best ground game in the league, to just oever a third of their average yardage on the ground. They were simply awesome to watch. It was a lot to ask when they were missing two out of three starting defensive tackles (although I suppose I should reluctantly stop putting Cameron Heyward in that category).

And let’s look at special teams, for that matter. They were missing both Shamarko Thomas and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and yet the Bills’ starting field positions after punts or kickoffs were, except for the touchbacks, well short of the 25-yard line.

As for penalties—well, that’s an area the Steelers still need to work on. William Gay’s pick-six was negated by a penalty on Artie Burns. Marcus Gilbert and B.J. Finney both had false starts, and B.J. Finney also got slapped with a holding penalty later in the game. (I have to admit to having a soft spot for holding offensive linemen, because often the option is to hold the guy and hope the ref doesn’t notice or see your quarterback laid out and know it was your fault.) Sean Davis also had a holding penalty, and David Johnson had a penalty for an illegal shift, although as I recall Rex Ryan elected not to accept the penalty.

But notice something? NO special teams penalties. Good work, guys! (Update: not true—Sammie Coates got a holding penalty. Still a big improvement…)

And after a dominant performance like this, it’s hard to be cross about anything, really. I’m just thrilled about a win in a very hostile environment, with a team on the verge of playoff elimination and a coach possibly on the verge of job elimination. The Bills had everything to play for, and the Steelers made it all for naught.

And finally, speaking of coaches, we must take note of Mike Tomlin’s 100th win. Ben Roethlisberger apparently gave him the “game ball” in the locker room after the game, and something else as well, which was not revealed to the media, so we can only speculate. I will end by quoting yet another tweet I can’t find, which pointed out that the last three Steelers head coaches have a combined 460 wins, and the last three Browns head coaches have a combined 14 wins. It’s good to be a Steelers fan.




  • Hell of a game by Bud. Shazier seemed to be everywhere as well. Good to see him healthy.


    • Ain’t it the truth. Anybody who wondered why the Steelers “overdrafted” Shazier or took Dupree should watch the tape of this game over and over until they get it…


  • Anybody besides the Bengals (who would like nothing better than to drag Pittsburgh with them on their trip to football Hell) who thinks they want to play the Steelers at this point are crazy. Even Pittsburgh couldn’t beat themselves today, as they took up to 21 points off the table, gave the Bills at least 7, and still won by a touchdown.

    The odds are still long; they will likely have to extend this 4-0 run into a 10-0 run in order to win that seventh Lombardi, and while they have the talent, they are still quite young and the margin of error too thin to be but so confident at this point. But they are in the thick of things and playing their best ball. And it may be possible that they have not peaked yet, which is encouraging to contemplate with their upcoming challenges.

    Their self inflicted challenges disguised the surprising ease of the victory against a team that had both the tools and the incentive to make this a life and death struggle. Consider that in tangent with the relative ease with which the Steelers dispatched the Giants, who in turn, just demonstrated that they were quite capable of bringing down the supposedly invincible Cowboys, and there is a potential here that can’t be ignored.

    The narcissistic and entitled insanity of some in Steelers Nation obscures a truth that will be so obvious in years hence that it will seem astonishing that so many can’t see it clearly now. In addition to reaching the milestone of 100 victories, Mike Tomlin also guaranteed that his streak of non-losing seasons will continue. Think about it this way. His ten year career, a span in and of itself extremely uncommon in the NFL, compares favorably with those of Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and John Madden. He has taken his teams to two Super Bowls. Four franchises have never gone, eight have only been there once. His one victory matches the total of seven organizations and is better than twelve who have never won,.Underappreciated? Absolutely. Fire him? Go ahead. He would be unemployed for the five minutes or so that it would take to realize that he was on the market.

    Years from now you will hear the lies that everyone loved him, just like they lie now about Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll, because to say otherwise would expose them as being stupid.

    I ask again, who is crazy enough to want to play the Steelers?.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Did you get the memo? Mike Tomlin is simply an average coach who is lucky to be part of a great franchise….

      …I’m not making this up. An Argentine fan tried to make that argument on social media not too, too long ago. (To show you that these things balance out south of the equator, another Argentine fan yesterday predicted a Steelers victory.)

      I tend to agree with you. The scary thing about this team is that its last two wins could have been horrendously lopsided were it not for self-inflicted wounds. Then factor in that the Steelers still don’t have a number 2 WR. And they’re playing w/o Cam Heyward….

      Liked by 1 person

  • Lots of good stuff from the young guys, which these days is about everyone.
    Tuitt looked impressive after being frustratingly quiet for the first half of the year
    McCullers and Walton didn’t do much on the stat sheet, but were part of shutting down the top running attack by far – and I’ll take that from a pair of 6th rounders.
    Davis showed a little of what makes good safeties great – the triple threat ability as a tackler (leading the team, including a vital stop shedding a blocker to drop McCoy in the open field and cut off his long run), ball hawk (with dangerous return ability!), and pass rusher.
    Burns with his second interception. Sure it was an easy one, but Ike Taylor would’ve dropped it. Sean Davis was coming up on that play so fast too it almost looked like he might’ve gotten that pick if Burns hadn’t.
    Shazier showed up tied for the team lead for tackles and another sack as well.

    The old guys weren’t exactly shut out, though, and it bears mentioning that Big Play William Gay was robbed by a penalty of yet another pick 6.

    You could say that games where almost everything goes right should be taken with a grain of salt, and that’s true. This was one of those games where it was almost easy to look good because the Bills were so demoralized. At the same time, this was one of those games that at kickoff could’ve so easily gone wrong, a classic Steelers trap game in so many ways. The Steelers were a favorite coming off a big win, playing on the road (remember Philly and Miami?) against a team with the skill to dominate a good Raiders team for 3 quarters, potentially playing with a chip on their shoulder after a tough loss. The fact that the Steelers stepped up and controlled the momentum of this game as the more physical team speaks volumes as to the team toughness that they’ve so desperately needed.

    It’s not all good news, though. I’m not just talking about Roethlisberger’s trademark underthrow in the red zone, which we all know is a thing we have to deal with. It’s great that Dupree has the freakish speed to recover and chase down mobile QB’s from behind after blowing contain, but that’s not going to impact games like a first round pick needs to do. He’s still coming back from injury I know, but his first step is slow, he has no power in his bull rush, and he shows no plan for fighting his way through a block with technique. The young man still has a ways to go, and his performance today didn’t really show he’s moving in that direction. His penalty also took 6 points off the board and gave the Bills a first down on 3rd and long. I don’t think it was a particularly good day for him even with the sack.


    • Bud Dupree had two sacks. He also had a shot at another, only to have Taylor get away, who then got away from 2-3 other would be tacklers, only to have Bud Dupree chase him down from behind coming across the field.

      I’ll take that.


      • I’m not unhappy about it, I’m just saying it’s easy to make it more than it is. He’s great at getting coverage sacks after protection breaks down because he can close in a hurry in the open field. His closing speed is amazing. He’s not going to get a lot of those opportunities against good teams in close games, though.

        Maybe I’m greedy, but guys like Harrison and Woodley were able to impact the game against good teams by getting to the QB before the play could develop, not just after the play failed to develop. With the 22nd overall pick in a draft rich with pass rushing talent, I’m hoping for a guy who can take a straight line to the QB rather than always having to run himself out of the play and then run back into it. Maybe I missed it because I didn’t get to see the whole game, but I’ve still never seen Dupree straight up beat his man off the snap. I haven’t given up on him at all, I’m just not real excited about him yet either.


    • I thought the penalty was on Artie Burns, not Dupree


  • Homer loves football in the snow. Fewer injuries because guys can’t run as fast, can’t plant and hit with as much force, and spikes don’t get caught in the turf. Plus, it looks like they’re playing in a snow globe.

    One really nice development is we’ve gone three weeks without anything really bad happening on the injury front. The rest of the league is breaking down, but the Stillers are getting healthier and enjoying a second wind.


  • The last win the Bills had against Pittsburgh was 1999. That is a long time in football years:)


    • Make me feel old….I remember that game. After the game at the Steelers bar I frequented at the time, the conversation naturally slipped into “Well, at least they were competitive….” To which someone realized just how quickly the Steelers had fallen.


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