Bell scores three TDs in Steelers win
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — When Big Ben doesn’t have his “A” Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed they have a more than capable Plan B in continuing their late-season playoff push.
That’s “B” as in Bell.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling once again with his accuracy on the road, the Steelers resorted to handing the ball off to Le’Veon Bell in sparking a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Despite a slick, snow-covered field, Bell had no trouble with his footing to score three times and set a franchise record with 236 yards rushing.
The Steelers (8-5) won their fourth in a row to keep pace in the AFC playoff hunt.
“How much can I appreciate it? About as much as any Steeler fan. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome,” Roethlisberger said of Bell’s performance. “When you’re running the ball as well as you do, might as well stick to it.”
After Roethlisberger threw two of his three interceptions in the first half, the Steelers opened the third quarter fully committed to feed Bell.
He delivered by rushing nine times for 72 yards and cap an 82-yard drive by waltzing into the end zone untouched from 5 yards out to put the Steelers ahead 21-7 . Add in 62 yards receiving, Bell accounted for 298 of Pittsburgh’s 460 yards, and he single-handedly outgained Buffalo’s 275 yards.
The loss left Buffalo (6-7) on the fringes of contention and placed the team in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest playoff drought to 17 seasons.
The Bills faltered on both sides of the ball, raising questions about the futures of both coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Tyrod Taylor beyond this season.
Ryan was noncommittal in saying, “we’ll see,” when asked whether Taylor will remain his starter.
Ryan was defiant when asked about whether he deserved a shot to continue on the job beyond his second season.
“What do you think I’m going to say? You’re dang right I do,” Ryan said. “It hasn’t gone exactly the way I wanted it to go, that’s obvious. But we have three games left and we’ll try to win every one of them.”
Though Roethlisberger improved to 4-3 on the road this season, he continues to struggle away from the friendly confines of Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger went 17 for 31 for 220 yards against Buffalo, and is 147 of 247 for 1,618 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions on the road. He’s 4-1 at home, where he is 136 of 193 for 1,636 with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s regular-season record improved to 100-57, making him the 40th NFL coach and third with Pittsburgh to reach 100 wins.
“I congratulated him. I gave him the game ball,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s a lot of coaches that have coached this game and probably wish they had 100 wins, for him to get it, it’s awesome.”
The no-nonsense Tomlin didn’t think much of the milestone, saying: “It means I’ve been here awhile.”
The Bills had minus-1 yard through two series in the first quarter, becoming the NFL’s first team this season to have negative yards through the first 15 minutes.
Buffalo didn’t get into positive yardage until its first snap of the second quarter, when LeSean McCoy had a 9-yard run.
Buffalo combined for seven first downs and 87 yards net offense on its first nine possessions. That included Sammy Watkins’ 8-yard touchdown catch set up by Stephon Gilmore returning Roethlisberger’s second interception to the Pittsburgh 7 midway through the second quarter.
Taylor finished 15 of 25 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“Definitely didn’t play my best,” Taylor said. “I let the team down a couple of plays, but gotta move forward.”
Though the Bills had three interceptions, not much else went right on defense.
Bell’s 236 yards rushing were the most allowed by Buffalo in team history. That eclipsed the 224 yards set by Miami’s Ricky Williams on Dec. 1, 2002. The Bills also allowed 200 yards rushing twice this season, after Miami’s Jay Ajayi had 214 in the Dolphins’ 28-25 win in October.
“It’s very hard to swallow,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “I don’t know how to take this right now. But it’s going to take some time.”
Linebacker Bud Dupree had two of Pittsburgh’s five sacks. The Steelers have 31 sacks this season, with 18 coming in their past four games.