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Immediate reactions: Steelers 23, Bills 10

blog by Nick Mendola  • 

We could make this about the Bills. I could open with a remembrance of offensive coordinator Nate Hackett blazing by me in the press box after they beat the Panthers, screaming, “It’s a new age, baby” and how that age now seems anything but new. Rather, it’s familiar.

But that would be a bummer, so let’s make this about you, Bills fan. Where are you right now?

Are you considering writing off more than the season after head coach Doug Marrone looked helpless on the sideline while rookie quarterback EJ Manuel combined rustiness and timidity to cook up an Edwardsian garbage casserole for Pittsburgh to enjoy?

Do you feel like Manuel’s performance should be forgiven considering his long lay-off from practice and game play as well as Steelers Hall of Fame coordinator Dick Lebeau’s now 17-2 record against rookie quarterbacks? Or are you terrified at the taller yet familiar Trentativeness of a Bills QB?

Are you wondering how the Bills could neither run nor pass against a miserable Steelers defense that had allowed 55 points to New England just one week ago?

Or are you just momentarily bummed out that the first fun season of Bills football in a good while has reverted into familiar full-fledged football fudgery from your favorite faction?

One more question: Kinda stinks to be here, right?

—The fourth quarter found Marrone punting on 4th-and-5 down two scores and inside Steelers territory (well inside: the 36 yard line). If you’re going to learn and likely lose with a rookie, you give him a chance to make tough plays.

Failing on that drive isn’t going to cripple confidence or anything like that, but not giving him the chance isn’t going to build him up. Try.

It felt like one of the first times that the shine truly came off a very likable rookie season from Marrone. There are forgivable mistakes, but these are the ones that stick with you… the ones that are recalled in offseason discussions of what went wrong. Buffalo fans can handle courageous errors a lot more than feeble blunders. That was a feeble blunder.

—So Manuel went 6 of 13 in the first half for just 43 yards and fought inaccuracy? That’s fine. A rookie taking weeks off of practicing, let alone playing in an NFL game, is not going to shine right away. Sure, it would’ve been a brilliant sign for his career if he went bananas immediately upon returning to game action but he didn’t. It’s not to be praised nor rewarded.

The second half, however, didn’t find any semblance of a groove from the Florida State rookie. Even when Manuel did lead the Bills down the field against a wide-open garbage time defense, he still almost fumbled away their second-best chance at a touchdown.

One thing is sure: when Manuel connected for his second final seconds touchdown of the year, this one to Chris Gragg to make it 23-9, it didn’t feel like that new era we referenced above, with Bills fans shouting out wild cheers. It felt more like tepid shouts of “Who’s Chris Gragg?”

(Not taking anything away from Gragg earning his first NFL touchdown. That’s a lifetime of work culminating in a big moment. Congrats, young man).

—There was the reemergence of the Jairus Byrd we’ve grown to appreciate over several Pro Bowl seasons in Buffalo, seizing a poorly-thrown Ben Roethlisberger pass and navigating his way 57 yards to put the Bills in position for their only points of the first half. It was what we expect from the star: a good read following by a good break and excellent hands.

—Maybe there was something else going on in Pittsburgh, but while the lack of fans in the stands for a 2-6 team isn’t a surprise… is that suppose to happen to the Steelers? I thought their fans were upper echelon faithfuls? In fact, when Pittsburgh’s fans decided to boo the reversal of Manuel’s final-minute fumble, it sounded like four dudes using their $9 beer cups as bullhorns.

—I really enjoyed when Marcell Dareus jumped offsides with the Bills poised to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt and keep the score either 10-3 or 13-3. It was really a joy to watch, like your kid diving in a mud puddle and running through your house. He’s having a strong season, but that penalty was a face-slap (granted Dareus lent the situation some levity by pointing at the Steelers lineman who didn’t appear close to flinching).

—Not an easy day for the starting cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Roethlisberger is no slouch and made a lot of strong throws, but there’s a difference between a strong throw and an indefensible one.

Gilmore seemingly was a step behind most of the routes he covered while McKelvin managed to fail not only in coverage but in the part of his game that often makes up for any errors: returns. He muffed a punt and seemed tentative at best in his returns instead of exploding up field.

Stat-line I liked:
Bills defenders, 4 sacks
— Buffalo needed to get to Ben Roethlisberger. They did. The corners were awful, but it’s hard to put this one on the front seven.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
Almost all of the remaining stats
— Pittsburgh’s 35 minutes in possession. The Steelers going 8-of-17 on third down. C.J. Spiller’s 2.9 yards per carry. Antonio Brown’s six catches for 104 yards. Moorman’s 36.9 yard punting average. B-b-b-b-b-b-Bad.

Game balls:
GRAGG and Jerry Hughes
— It’s Graggfest!! Also, Hughes was considered a throwaway from Indianapolis but is quietly doing a job (33 tackles, 5.5 sacks) for the Bills while the linebacker the Bills traded him for, Kelvin Sheppard, has 18 tackles and a sack in 9 games for Indianapolis.

Next week:
Malaise away? In comes a Jets team that made Manuel and Marrone look like a circus act precious weeks ago… and they’re coming off the bye. Fortunately, their quarterback is still Geno Smith and the game is at home, so it shouldn’t be too awful. And honestly, shouldn’t familiarity and more practice time breed some productivity? Also being a home game, the Bills have done a good job of producing free coffee touchdowns and they didn’t against Kansas City.

Wow. I’ve talked myself into a close one… and a win? Give Buffalo a defensive touchdown in a 20-16 win.

This time, it couldn’t have been that much worse, so I’ll save you that, but rather than add another dismal note to a roooouuuugh day, we all deserve to smile. Nothing brings smiles like a looped hour of Axl Rose advocating reggae.


TAGGED: ben roethlisberger, buffalo bills, ej manuel, football, immediate reactions, nick mendola, pittsburgh steelers

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