Just before kick-off, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth gave a telling insight into the Sunday night meeting between the Bills and Steelers.
“This is a very important game for both teams,” he said of the 11-1 AFC north leader and the 9-3 team in the east. “Is this the game if Buffalo moves up to the top of the league’s teams?”
Sixty minutes later he had his answer.
After an uneven first half, the Bills outperformed the Steelers after a break to score a 26:15 win.
Buffalo not only confirmed his place in the conference elite, but also moved a little closer to the AFC playoff start number 2 – Pittsburgh is 11: 2 and the Bills 10: 3, but with the head-to-head tiebreaker – and when Cleveland tonight beats Baltimore, a berth is secured after the season.
In any case, after Miami (8-5) lost to Kansas City (33-27) earlier in the day, Buffalo leads the division with two full games and owns the tiebreaker over the Dolphins with three games to play.
THE INVOICES dominated the Steelers in a game when they were not at their best.
Quarterback Josh Allen fumbled once in the first half, avoided another when the game wasn’t replayed, got intercepted once, and escaped another when Dawson Knox bobbled a catch at the narrow end, collected the ball, then lost it again and although the ball never landed on the ground, it has been classified as a fiddly recreation by Pittsburgh.
But in the second half, Allen played like he did for much of the season. He tossed touchdowns to Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs and put together a solid game stats sheet.
Buffalo’s first takeout was a Pick Six from Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger from Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson, his first of the season and his second of his career. It was Buffalo’s first defensive touchdown since November 2018 when Jason Croom fell on a fumble in the end zone in special teams. The final interception for a score came on Christmas Eve 2017 in New England when security met Jordan Poyer on a 19 yard return.
Then, in the fourth quarter, cornerback Levi Wallace caught Roethlisberger, his second of the year.
The Steelers’ first lunch came when Allen was hit by defensive end Cameron Heyward while throwing and Pittsburgh cornerback Mike Hilton recorded his first intercept of the season. The second came up with the bizarre Knox game. Pittsburgh cornerback Cameron Sutton received recognition for the fiddly recovery.
– Buffalo’s only sack of Roethlisberger was picked up by full-back Matt Milano, earning him 2½ in the season.
– Davis, a fourth-round freshman, made his sixth touchdown pass as a team leader while colleague Diggs had his fifth 100-yard reception game of the season (10 catches, 130 yards).
– Allen fumbled for the eighth time this season when he was fired from Steelers End. Tyson Alualu – his second of the year – but Buffalo recovered. He’s lost five of his pompons this season and a second possible fumble when Sutton hit Allen’s arm was avoided when the game wasn’t reviewed and an incomplete pass was decided instead as Pittsburgh did not question the call.
Alualu gave the Steelers a sack, an NFL record, in 70 consecutive games.
– Buffalo rookie placekicker Tyler Bass has now scored 11 straight goals and 13 of the last 14 – including three of 54 yards or more – his only mistake in that stretch of a 61-yarder just before half-time against Seattle. However, he missed his first attempt at extra points against the Steelers.
– Poyer was the Bills’ lead tackler at nine, including a team with six solo stops.
Steelers linebacker Avery Williamson has playing heights in tackles (11) and solos (9).
– Regular Al Michaels was with Mike Tirico, who took on that role with Collinsworth as analyst. The side reporter Michelle Tafoya was also eliminated and was replaced by Kathryn Tappen. 76-year-old Michaels has games off – bye weeks – and with his contract reportedly last year, NBC has reported that Tirico is being prepared for the takeover.
– Only two of the three Edmunds brothers were active. Buffalo middle linebacker Tremaine and Pittsburgh Safety Terrell were active. You made NFL history as the first brothers selected in the first round of NFL draft that same year. However, the returning Steelers, Trey, is in an injured reserve. All three were active last December when the Bills won 17:10 at Heinz Field.
– Inactive for the bills were quarterback Jake Fromm, TJ Yeldon, security Jaquan Johnson (ankle), Tyler Kroft and Trent Murphy. It’s the third straight week that Murphy, who is healthy, has been inactive. Kroft, who had spent three weeks on the Covid reservation, returned this week but was not activated. This circumstance could threaten the future of the two veterans with the franchise. The bills also activated linebacker Tyrel Dodson from the injured reserve.
– Steelers inactive activities included starting cornerback Joe Haden (concussion) and replacing Anthony McFarland Jr., their seats being taken by Marcus Allen and Williamson. Sutton replaced Haden.
(Chuck Pollock, a senior Times Herald sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)