Game 16: Fate Turns On Bills Against Pittsburgh
Bills lose to bunch of backups.
by Steve Saslow
The Bills knew they needed a win and some help from either St. Louis or Indianapolis to get into the playoffs. They forgot about the first part as their play flashbacked to the first month of the season and they lost 29-24 to the Steelers. It wasn't that they lost to the best team in the league that was the problem. It was that they lost to their backups, including their third string quarterback after having a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter.
The Bills struggled from the start when Nate Clements fumbled away a punt that led to a Steelers field goal. Clements looked for revenge by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Aaron Schobel. That setup a 50 yard drive, 41 yards were by Willis McGahee including the three yard touchdown to give the Bills a 7-3 lead.
The Steelers responded with a 49 yard drive, after a short kickoff and good return, to a 16 yard touchdown pass by 2nd string QB Tommy Maddox, to Antwan Randel El to give the Steelers the 10-7 lead.They would add two more field goals before halftime to go up 16-7 thanks to a Drew Bledsoe interception and a 15 play drive.
At that point the Steelers put in all their backups but they still were able to win despite a quick flurry by the Bills late in the 2nd quarter and early in the third. Bledsoe engineered a 43 play drive in 11 plays in the final 1:41 before halftime. Rian Lindell hit a 37 yard field goal to pull the Bills within six at the half.
Clements further made up for his fumble by intercepting a Maddox pass and returning it 30 yards for a score to give the Bills the lead at 17-16. They had the lead, the momentum, and the Steelers were substituting liberally. It seemed like the game was going to be there for the taking. The Offense was moving the ball against the backups of Pittsburgh and an 86 yard drive took 12 plays and half the third quarter but ended when Lindell missed a 28 yard field goal.
Surprising for a team that has been known for its mental toughness, they collapsed after that missed kick and it turned out to be the turning point of a terribly disappointing game. The next play, fourth string undrafted free agent running back Willie Parker rumbled for 58 of his game high 102 yards to setup the Steelers for a fourth quarter that would put a dagger in the hearts of the Bills.
The run setup a field goal that gave the Steelers the 19-17 lead. The Bills offense still had some momentum against a Steelers defense mostly filled with backups, except for Harrison who was one of four starters remaining and he took a Bledsoe fumble 18 yards for a touchdown to put the game away for Pittsburgh.
They added a fourth Jeff Reed field goal to go up 29-17. Bledsoe would finally find Lee Evans for a 56 yard bomb that setup McGahee's second touchdown to pull the Bills within five but a failed onside kick ended the Bills fate.
The Jets lost which on the surface means the loss cost the Bills a playoff spot. The only issue with that is, that the Jets knew the Bills lost before they forced overtime against the Rams so they may have let their guard down a bit. We won't know for sure if the Bills had won, that they would be in the playoffs. It was a disheartening performance, they needed a desperation effort and only got it in small spurts. When the game was on the line they sputtered badly. Not a way to go into next season, it may hurt some of the momentum that the six game winning streak built towards the 2005 season.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the Bills finale against Pittsburgh: