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It was a game that pitted what looked to be an aging perennial playoff contender against a young AFC upstart. A lot of the ills that had sunk the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 2-6 record appeared to play to the strengths of the Bills, who had their top draft choice back in the lineup at quarterback. All of the statistics went out the window on Sunday at Heinz Field as the Steelers beat the Bills for the seventh straight time in Pittsburgh 23-10.
"I really thought we didn't play well," said head coach Doug Marrone. "I think that's obvious. Offensively, I thought we could have run the ball better at times. That's what we needed to do. Obviously we had a drop here or there. We had some misreads. at the end of the day they were able to make the plays, and they were able to beat us. We have to be able to do that to win.
"We have to find a way to make plays on offense. When we've done that, we've been in it. We've had a good chance to win. Some of those games we won. When we don't have those types of situations where people are able to do that, it's very difficult to win right now with the way we're playing."
The Steelers built on a 10-3 halftime lead with a touchdown drive late in the third quarter. A 40-yard pass play from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown set Pittsburgh up at the Buffalo 18. The Bills defense got a red zone stop on third down to force a field goal attempt, but Buffalo jumped offsides on fourth down, giving the Steelers a fresh set of downs at the Bills six-yard line. Two plays later Le'Veon Bell punched it on a four-yard touchdown run (17-3).
Buffalo's offense had little punch to it for the entire game. After an opening field goal drive off a long interception return by Jairus Byrd, the Bills punted on each of their next eight possessions. Their 10th possession lasted just one play with EJ Manuel intercepted at midfield with Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark returning it to the Bills 13-yard line. It led a 37-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham with eight minutes remaining in the game.
An interception by Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark on the ensuing possession by Buffalo was returned to the Bills 13-yard line. The Steelers again settled for another short field goal to balloon their lead to 23-3 with Suisham hitting from 23 yards out with just over four minutes left.
Buffalo scored a touchdown just before the end of regulation with Manuel finding fellow rookie Chris Gragg on a two-yard touchdown reception.
EJ Manuel in his return to the lineup had trouble stringing completions together on drives. He was 22-39 passing for 155 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked four times. None of Buffalo's first 11 possessions gained 35 net yards on the day as the Bills went 3-for-14 on third downs.
"We didn't capitalize on everything that we thought we could have," said Manuel. "Obviously it wasn't the way I wanted to come back and have my game off of the injury. I think there's a lot things we can learn from. It's tough right now."
"Our quarterback just came back, EJ Manuel, he had some misreads," said Marrone. "At the same time he's going to get better and better each week. If you want to know exactly what happened out there, he's going through his footwork too quick and not as slowed down to see things develop as quick. That happens to young quarterbacks."
Buffalo's defense played stingy for the most part, but showed themselves susceptible to big plays. A week after holding Kansas City to just one play of 20 yards or more, the Bills allowed Pittsburgh to roll up six. All were instrumental on Steelers' scoring drives.
Buffalo opened the scoring by capitalizing on a turnover. On Pittsburgh's opening possession, Jairus Byrd picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Markus Wheaton at the Bills' 14-yard line and returned it 57 yards to the Steelers 29.
"It was a great start for our team with Jairus getting the interception early," said C.J. Spiller. "As an offense you love that. You have to have the mentality after that to put seven points on the board. Obviously we didn't do that."
The offense stuck to the ground for the most part on the drive, but after failed attempts to reach the end zone on 1st-and-goal from the nine and 2nd-and-goal from the three on the ground, EJ Manuel's fade pass to the right corner of the end zone for Stevie Johnson sailed out of bounds.
Buffalo took a 20-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter instead for an early 3-0 lead with 6:19 left in the opening quarter.
Pittsburgh would pull even after a 25-yard end around by Emmanuel Sanders set the Steelers up 1st-and-10 at the Bills 25-yard line. Though the Steelers got as far as 1st-and-goal at the 10, they were stymied by Buffalo's solid red zone defense. Kyle Williams forced the Pittsburgh field goal attempt with a sack of Roethlisberger for an 11-yard loss. Shaun Suisham put a 36-yard attempt through to tie it (3-3) midway through the second quarter.
The Steelers would then take the lead on their next possession. After Le'Veon Bell picked up 34 yards on a shovel pass to move Pittsburgh out to midfield, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 24-yard strike to convert a 3rd-and-4 and set up 1st-and-goal at the Buffalo five. He then found Jerricho Cotchery for a five-yard touchdown catch on a fade pattern for a 10-3 Steelers lead with just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter, sending Pittsburgh to the locker room with a seven-point lead at the half.
On the whole the first half was a struggle for Buffalo's offense. C.J. Spiller (4 car., 4 yds) and Fred Jackson (7 car., 27 yds) found little running room and Spiller appeared to aggravate his left ankle injury as he did not have a carry in the second quarter before re-entering the lineup in the third quarter.
EJ Manuel also struggled after a four-week layoff with a knee injury. He checked the ball down often to underneath targets and was 6-13 passing in the first half for just 43 yards averaging 3.3 yards per attempt. The Bills were 1-5 on third down conversions through the first two quarters of play.
The loss was the fifth in six games for the Buffalo as they fell to 3-7 on the season. The Bills return home next Sunday for a division rematch with the New York Jets at 1 pm.