All the hype surrounding Sunday's Rust Belt showdown in Orchard Park was on Pittsburgh's defense, ranked No. 5 in the league led by stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, but Buffalo's defense – No. 25 in the league – gave it a run for its money.
Buffalo's defense rebounded from two long first-half scoring drives by the Steelers to rally from a 13-0 halftime deficit allowing just three second half points. The Bills registered a season-high five sacks but ultimately fell short in overtime, 19-16, after Shaun Suisham booted a 41-yard game winner.
Despite the loss, coach Chan Gailey said he was pleased with the way his defense responded after falling behind early, especially against an elusive quarterback like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
"We got five sacks on a guy that doesn't give up very many sacks anymore," Gailey said. "We really pressured him a lot more than that, (and) made him throw the ball away a few times. The defensive effort especially in the second half was just tremendous."
At 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, Roethlisberger is known for his ability to scramble and avoid sacks, but the Bills' defense recorded a season-high five against him on Sunday.
Kyle Williams led the charge against Roethlisberger, dropping the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal caller twice, reaching the five-sack mark on the season and adding to his team lead.
Williams said the key was wrapping up Roethlisberger.
"He's elusive," Williams said. "But he's big and strong where you have to get a centered shot on him or he's going to be tough to bring down with one guy."
Chris Kelsay and Marcus Stroud also sacked Roethlisberger; as did rookie Alex Carrington, who recorded his first-career sack.
Pittsburgh built a 10-0 lead after drives of 13 and 14 plays that chewed a combined 14:06 off the clock. Only Williams' second-quarter sack of Ben Roethlisberger for an eight-yard loss on a third down with 5:25 left in the first half kept the Steelers, who held the ball for 23:55 in the first half, from being ahead by more than two scores.
After cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Bills recorded their only takeaway of the day on the next play from scrimmage when Jairus Byrd wrestled the ball away from Rashard Mendenhall at the Pittsburgh 23. Byrd's first takeaway of the season set up a game-tying Rian Lindell field goal.
After Pittsburgh retook the lead 16-13, Polamalu intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass at his own one with three minutes remaining in regulation; but the Bills' defense forced the Steelers to punt with under one minute to play, setting up a Lindell field goal to send the game to overtime.
Kelsay's sack came in the extra session. With Roethlisberger retreating back to his own end zone, Kelsay stripped the ball; but Roethlisberger recovered at his own one, and the Steelers punted on the next play.
Three plays after Steve Johnson dropped what would have been a game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass on their ensuing possession, the Bills' punted the ball back to the Steelers, who marched 58 yards in 13 plays to set up Suisham's game-winner.
Although disappointed after allowing Pittsburgh to steal the victory, Williams said there have been some clear defensive improvements lately in Buffalo.
"I think we have done some things better," he said. "The main thing is … when we have an opportunity to give our offense a chance, we've been able to get off the field. That's something we struggled with in the past."
Williams added the Bills didn't make any notable halftime adjustments; they just executed better in the second half and proved they are a high-character team.
"We tackled terribly the first two-three drives, and then picked it up and started tackling," he said. "There's no quit (in this team), and I don't think we're a pushover. We're going to go fight, and we'll make some things happen; but not enough (Sunday)."
Paul Posluszny said it was tough to lose in the manner the Bills did, but agreed there was significant defensive improvement in the second half.
"We just got a better feel for how they were trying to attack us," he said. "They were doing some different things blocking-scheme-wise and our D-line was able to do a great job of taking advantage of that."
Posluszny added the Bills are still far from becoming a highly regarded defense.
"We're close, but we still (have) a lot of work to do," he said. "We had chances to win; but if we want to be a good team, we've got to pull these types of games out."
George Wilson said the Bills are frustrated about falling short on Sunday, but are motivated to build off the lessons learned from it.
"We've got to take this one on the chin, go in and watch the film (Monday), correct our mistakes and move forward," Wilson said. "We're going to rally behind each other and continue to push the envelope each and every day. For us to be the team that we want to be in the future, we have to remember this day, remember this feeling, learn from it, grow from it, and we'll be a better team for it."