AFC Wild Card Game: Bills 31, Steelers 17

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Early mistakes by Steelers end up being costly, while Buffalo’s Josh Allen puts on a show

By Bear Acuda

Mother Nature put the Bills/Steelers AFC Wild Card game for Sunday on ice. Literally. Maybe we left all our juice in Sunday’s pockets. Maybe the Bills are just a better team. Either way, the Steelers waved “sayonara” to the 2024 NFL Playoffs.

Early errors proved costly, as the Steelers discovered in their game against the Bills. After Pittsburgh’s initial turnovers set them back 21-0, the “Black & Yellow” would be unable to overcome their early mistakes. 

Regrettably for Steel Town, Buffalo’s quarterback Josh Allen was his usual formidable-self. Allen’s exceptional performance – leading to three passing touchdowns and the longest rushing touchdown of his career – would help steer the Bills to a 31-17 win over the Steelers at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, NY. 

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are the Most Dangerous Team Left in the NFL Playoffs

After a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Weekend, a 6-6 Buffalo Bills would head into their bye-week on a losing streak. But, like great teams are able to do, they hit the reset button and simplified their objective: Win out or go home.

Revitalized, the Bills would go on a five-game winning streak. Their regular season streak would conclude inside Orchard Park, seeing them beat their AFC East rival, the Miami Dolphins, in a game that would decide the division. As a result, they would go into the playoffs as the #2-seed out of the AFC and an opportunity to host their first playoff game.

Though, the winning wouldn’t stop there.

The Bills took advantage of their plunder, calling upon the Bills Mafia to help them punch their ticket into next week’s Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. They will be playing host to the Kansas City Chiefties, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes first-ever road playoff game. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, decided to pull off from the Playoff Highway at the “Wild Card Round” rest station.

Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph saw his comeback story come to an end. I for one was rooting for the guy, hoping to find the replacement for Football God, Ben Roethlisberger. I was high on Rudolph, coming out of Oklahoma State. I even stood by his side when we added Mitch Trubisky to the quarterback room. I’ll be honest, when the Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett, I felt we might’ve found our long term answer at the quarterback position, but I still hadn’t given up on Rudolph. When Pickett went down, and Rudolph would eventually lead us into the playoffs, I let my imagination run wild.

But that’s all it was: imagination.

Rudolph battled in Buffalo, almost surmounting a late comeback. He’d end up going 22/39 for 229, 2 TDS and 1 INT; not great, but not terrible, either. We would get the shaft on a crucial third down late in the game – Pickens clearly got hooked by Bills DB Dane Jackson (*see Picken’s reaction) – but it was already back to a two possession game by that point.

Postgame, Rudolph reflected on the game, highlighting the importance of a strong start in away games against dynamic teams, which they failed to achieve. However, he expressed pride in the team’s resilience towards the end:

“Any time you’re on the road and you’re playing an explosive team, you want to have a fast start, and we didn’t. We knew being on the road, you’ve got to come out and keep it close early, and we didn’t. But I was proud of the way we fought back there at the end.”

Buffalo capitalized on early momentum and turnovers, quickly advancing to a 21-0 lead. Bills head coach Sean McDermott would challenge a subsequent fumble by wideout George Pickens, and win. On the very next play, Josh Allen would throw a 29-yard dart to tight end Dawson Knox for a touchdown, deepening the hole Pittsburgh had to crawl out of.

The Steelers managed to advance deep into Buffalo territory, but 2nd & Goal (from the 4-yard line) Rudolph would throw an interception to DB Kair Elam, thwarting yet another scoring opportunity. While Rudolph did acquire some rush yards (quite different from his normal Redwood stature), it would be Josh Allen’s 52-yard run that would break the Steelers’ back. Head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged the challenge presented by Allen’s mobility, admitting it was a priority for his defense to keep in check. Unfortunately, Allen is a Bronco and clearly had other ideas.

Despite a blocked Buffalo field goal attempt leading to a Steelers touchdown, Buffalo maintained their lead, responding with another scoring drive.

Rudolph and the Steelers narrowed the gap with a touchdown pass to Calvin Austin, but Buffalo’s ensuing drive, aided by penalties against the Steelers, culminated in a touchdown by Khalil Shakir, sealing the game at 31-17.

In his postgame presser, Steelers lineman Cam Heyward was honest with the media, speaking to them about the defensive lapses and missed opportunities that ultimately hindered their efforts. The Steelers’ last (real) possession ended without a score (and the aforementioned missed pass interference call), and despite a missed field goal by Buffalo’s Tyler Bass, the outcome was already decided.

Tomlin summed up the game, acknowledging the team’s effort but pointing out the crucial mistakes, particularly early turnovers, that led to their downfall in such a high-stakes environment: 

“I appreciate the effort. But efforts don’t get it done. We spotted them early in the football game via turnovers. You can’t come into an environment like this versus a playoff-caliber team and turn the ball over like that and expect to be competitive.

We fought back in it over the course of the game. We cut it to 7 and were excited about that. Then we gave up a touchdown drive. When you get a major penalty on a drive on defense, that’s usually going to produce points. That was the case. And it put them back up by 14. The rest is academic. I’m appreciative of the efforts, but it’s not mystical. We didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t get the ball from them enough in an environment like this and thus the score.”

Will I watch the remaining NFL Playoff games?

Begrudgingly, yes. It is my job. 

Will I enjoy myself?

After I’m done licking my wounds. And as long as the Ravens get knocked out next week.

Am I a sore loser?

You GD right! I’m fully aware that WE lost that game, and Buffalo, in fact, is a better team. That doesn’t mean that I will accept nothing less than perfection. Did I mention I’m also unreasonable?

What is the appropriate amount of time for a fan to mourn?

Feel free to send me comforting words, or have fun at my expense by commenting in the section below, or follow us on social media: 

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