ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Just as instrumental as any unit, the third phase of the game is something that Mike Tomlin echoes week in and week out. At times, it can feel like a cliche crutch that he uses, however, on Sunday, it proved to be more than apt.
The Steelers’ special teams came up in a big way, with Miles Killebrew blocking a punt and Ulysees GIlbert III picking it up for a touchdown. It blew the game wide open, and the play was maybe the biggest play of the game. By giving the Steelers a two-score game, they mostly cruised the rest of the way on the way to a 23-16 victory.
It looks like the Steelers overload the interior here and the Bills special teams simply could not keep up. Long snapper Reid Ferguson is distracted by Buddy Johnson crossing his face. Marcus Allen comes on a delayed blitz to further mess up his sightline. As a result, Killebrew gets skinny and breaks through with no help behind Ferguson. Bills punter Matt Haack also takes an extra hitch here, further aiding the Steelers in their all-out blitz attempt to block the punt. It just seems like, between Haack’s slow release time and the overload blitz, they could not handle the heat.
Killebrew went through the play from his perspective.
“It was a big for us, obviously,” Killebrew said. “It was a moment in the game where it was a big momentum shift and it was a good team effort. I know a lot of guys don’t know how things work on special teams, but it’s very rarely one guy’s victory when something big happens. And this is one of those moments where it was a lot of guys doing their job. I just happened to be at the point of attack. I was very thankful to make it happen, and then my boy Uly scoops it up and scores it. Very happy, happened very fast. But it goes back to what we were practicing all week. Danny Smith drew up a few good plays that we were able to execute against a good out like Buffalo. Everything happened the way we had hoped it would.”
While Killebrew certainly understands the significance of the play, he can not chalk a ton of it up to film study, if for no other reason than true game speed.
“Well, that’s the thing about punt and punt block, it happens so quickly that you can study something on film until you’re blue in the face, but they may correct it,” Killebrew said. “It’s something that Danny Smith says all the time. You never know when your number will be called. Mine happened to be called in this game. It is up to me and every single one of our guys when our number is called.”
With the big play, Killebrew and Gilbert III broke the game open in a massive way. While there not be many more opportunities to do what he did on Sunday again, it was a statement debut for Killebrew as a result.
Alan Saunders contributed reporting from Orchard Park.