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.