It was not a triumphant return to the lineup for EJ Manuel. It was anything but that as Manuel struggled with his accuracy all game long in a 23-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Manuel struggled to shake the rust off after missing four games with a sprained LCL. The Bills were held to 227 yards on offense and that number is inflated by an 80 yard garbage time drive to a last second meaningless two yard touchdown pass to rookie Chris Gragg. The Steelers defense played inspired ball after having the worst defensive effort in franchise history last week in New England. The Bills got a field goal after a Jairus Byrd 57 yard interception return to take a 3-0 lead but it was all Pittsburgh after that. Ben Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 5 yard score and Le'Veon Bell had a four yard scoring run while Shaun Suisham hit three field goals in windy conditions at Heinz Field.
The Turning Point: Marcell Dareus jumped offsides on a 4th and 3 field goal attempt giving the Steelers a first down. The Bills sideline was very unhappy about the call. They think the center fake snapped it. Two plays later they were in the end zone for a 17-3 lead which was insurmountable the way the Bills were playing on offense.
The Big Drive:
Steelers First TD: Pittsburgh went 86 yards in 9 plays in 3:59 and had a couple of big plays on the drive. Roethlisberger was in trouble and threw a shuffle pass to Le'Veon Bell for 34 yards. Antonio Brown had a 24 yard reception to setup the 5 yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
Stat I Did Like:
Sacks: The Bills recorded four more sacks in this game. Two for Jerry Hughes and one each for Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
Stat I Didn't Like:
Passing Yards: The Bills had just 130 net passing yards with 76 of those yards coming on the final garbage time TD drive.
Quick Slants: - Wind was a factor in the game but field conditions weren't. It was the first windy game of the year which affected both QBs and punters. The field was in good shape despite the University of Pittsburgh playing there last night. - Doug Whaley was shaking plenty of hands on his return to Pittsburgh for the first time since spending 11 seasons in their organization. - Manuel did wear a knee brace to protect his knee today. - Manuel was definitely rusty and was very inaccurate throughout but the Bills kept calling low percentage out patterns.
Key Matchup Results:
The winners of the battles highlighted in our preview article: RT Erik Pears vs. OLB LaMarr Woodley: Winner: Pears. He kept Woodley at bay most of the day. RB C.J. Spiller vs. LB Lawrence Timmons: Winner: Timmons. Whether it was Spiller or Jackson the Bills got nothing going on the ground. DE Mario Williams vs. LT Kelvin Beachum: Winner: Beachum. Super Mario had one of those days when he was anything but super. CB Stephon Gilmore vs. WR Antonio Brown: Winner: Brown. Gilmore was beaten by Brown and Cotchery many times. Brown had a 40 yard reception on the Steelers second TD drive.
Keys To The Game Results:
How the keys highlighted in our preview article turned out: 1. Ball Security: Success! They only turned the ball over once on a Manuel interception but the outcome was pretty much determined by then. 2. Goal Line Efficiency: Failure! The Bills got down there once and were forced to settle for a field goal. There only points of the game until the final seconds. 3. Contain Roethlisberger: Failure! They sacked him four times and kept him in the pocket for the most part but he did connect on several long pass plays.
Lots of people thought the Bills would go down to Pittsburgh and get a win against a 2-6 team. The problem with changing the losing culture of this team is it comes very slowly. The Bills have only won twice ever in the Steel City so no matter how bad the Steelers have played this year you knew it would be tough to win there. Lost in the excitement of the return of Manuel was how rusty he would be. The troubling thing about it though is he never seemed to shake it off as he struggled throwing all day long. The coaches didn't help him by calling pass plays that weren't designed for him to succeed but nevertheless he was downright awful. The Bills rebuilding project took a step back as for the first time in the Doug Marrone era they looked sluggish and disinterested in playing football. A total flop.
The Bills head back to Orchard Park for a division battle with the Jets that has lost some luster with the loss to Pittsburgh. New York is coming off of a bye week.
Jerry Hughes - Was in the backfield a lot and had two sacks.
Jairus Byrd - His 57 yard interception return setup the Bills only points of the game and was one of the lone bright spots in the game.
Stephon Gilmore - He was beaten several times in the first half including giving up the Steelers first touchdown. He was also beaten for a 40 yard pass play in the 2nd half that led to the Steelers 2nd touchdown.
EJ Manuel - He was certainly rusty but his accuracy didn't approve as the game went on.
Brian Moorman - He averaged just 36.9 yards on nine punts. Wind was a factor.
Player Of The Week
Jerry Hughes - He was very active and the best player in the front seven. Both his sacks forced punts.