ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Thanks to some quirks of the NFL schedule, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, despite being separated by just a little more than three hours’ drive, regularly play one another just one out of every three seasons.
But with their fates trending in similar directions, the Steelers and Bills have actually faced each other in three consecutive seasons, once as part of the normal AFC North-AFC East rotation in 2019 and in 2020 and 2021 because the teams finished in the same place in their respective divisions.
That means that as the teams got together on Sunday for the third time in three seasons, they were unusually familiar with one another. For the Steelers, that familiarity was not necessarily a good thing.
Buffalo beat the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger in 2019 at Heinz Field and then upset Pittsburgh, 26-15 in Orchard Park in 2020.
The key player for the Bills in those games and the rest of Buffalo’s resurgence has been quarterback Josh Allen. The Wyoming alum was a neophyte when he started against the Steelers in 2019, but has developed into one of the most feared dual threat quarterbacks in the NFL.
Allen threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns in the Bills’ win over the Steelers in 2020, and while he had another strong statistical performance on Sunday, the Steelers did a better job of keeping Allen and the Bills out of the end zone.
“The last two times we played them, we haven’t had our best game,” Cam Heyward said.
The Bills found pay dirt just once against the Black and Gold on Saturday. They had scored at least two touchdowns in all but one game last season. The Steelers said they knew they had this kind of performance against Allen and company in them.
“It felt, I don’t want to say like a dominant performance, because there’s obviously still going to be a lot left on the table and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of film to watch and make corrections, but I’m very happy with where we are, especially Week 1,” T.J. Watt said. “I love being with this group. We were flying around and we handled adversity really well.”
The end result was an Allen that seem impacted by the Steelers’ pass rush and couldn’t make plays in critical situations, as the Bills twice turned the ball over on fourth down.
With the Steelers’ offense scuffling through the first half, that dominant defensive performance turned out to be necessary. But for the Steelers, it’s also the standard.
“We just played Steeler D,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We respect Josh Allen. We respect their group. They’re a challenging group. But I’ve got an expectation that our defensive unit is going to be in every game like that.”