To quote Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In this opening article, I will review the recent history of the Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers.
The last time the Steelers visited Buffalo was in week 14 last year. The Bills defeated them 26 – 15. This season boasts new starters for Pittsburgh and the return of some beloved Bills players who sat out in 2020 due to COVID-19 opt-out selection.
Buffalo Bills (13-3, AFC Championship Game Loss)
Last season, we saw Josh Allen make a leap in production and overall skill set unlike any other in the history of the NFL. Most notably, he went from finishing at the bottom of the NFL in completion percentage during his first two seasons to one of the elites in year three. Josh Allen finished the 2020 campaign with a 69.2 completions percentage and a QB rating of 107.2.
To put some perspective on this historical leap, Josh Allen has the highest increase in completion percentage jump and second-highest improvement in QBR (Bert Jones is first with 40.1 in 1974.) It is simply unheard of in the modern era of NFL football for a quarterback to improve so drastically that he quite literally changed the way we view player potential from one year to the next. The NFL media will forevermore question if quarterback X can “Josh Allen his way into the tier of elite NFL QB’s?” (Wait….did I just make Josh Allen a verb?)
- Passing: 396-572/4544/37
- Rushing: 102/421/8
- Interceptions: 10
The addition of Stefon Diggs is undoubtedly the biggest splash Mr. Beane made coming into the 2020 season. Diggs was languishing and outwardly frustrated with the Minnesota Vikings and his usage during 2019. When he arrived in Buffalo, he was excited, invigorated, and most importantly, rewarded. Stefon immediately stepped into the number one wide receiver role for the Bills and never looked back.
Nobody foresaw what would ensue over the next 17 weeks, (largely due to the lack of belief in Josh Allen before the season started.) But the chemistry between the WR and his new QB blossomed immediately, to the point where discussions were being had as to which QB/WR duo was the best in football. Was it Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams or Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs?
Regardless of which side of the argument you land on, both Josh and Stefon showcased the best they had over the season and cemented themselves as a serious threat to any defense.
- Receiving: 127-166/1535/8
Non-Existent Running Game
Entering the season, the Bills tandem of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were expected to take some of the pressure off of the young QB and grind out some important yards and move the ball downfield.
The outcome was not only surprising but almost shocking. While Singletary’s 2020 stat line (156/687/2) ended up similar to his rookie campaign in 2019 (151/775/2), there was a clear and obvious decline in his weekly production. The Bills running backs were not able to move the ball on the ground.
Josh Allen accounted for almost 40% of the total ground yards and outscored both backs combined by two touchdowns.
This was it, the day where the rubber met the road! (or turf met the toe in Mahomes case.) Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes would face off for the right to advance to SB LV.
Mahomes entered the game with a special insert in his shoe to try and alleviate the pain of turf toe, and Josh Allen was ready to run the offense at full speed.
The game was very entertaining but a 21 point outburst in the second quarter proved too much for the Bills to come back from. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce were once again Thunder and Lightning. The Chiefs won the game 38-24.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, AFC Wild Card Loss)
Undefeated (until they weren’t…)
An 11-0 start to the season should signify that a team is one of the absolute powerhouses in the entire league, right? The Steelers were steamrolling their way to another AFC North division title in 2020.
However….. Even with the hot start, there was always an undertone of doubt as to the legitimacy of the record from media and fans alike. It was felt that the teams they were beating were not legitimate contenders/tough matchups. Pittsburgh was viewed as a paper tiger.
One of the clearest examples of why there were so many doubters was the second matchup between the Steelers and Ravens. Pittsburgh edged out a 19-14 win in a Week 12 stinker. A team with their record should have won the game with ease due to the fact that Lamar Jackson was out after testing positive for COVID-19; not a good sign.
Sure they beat the teams they were expected to beat early on in the season like the Giants, Eagles, Dak-less Cowboys, etc. But something just didn’t smell right. Big Ben had no juice in his arm, Diontae Johnson forgot how to catch a football, and they had yet to face the toughest part of their schedule… Sure enough, the ball of yarn came unraveled in week 14 when they faced the Bills in Buffalo. I would be remiss if I completely failed to acknowledge the havoc COVID played with the scheduling of the last few games, though. Some of what happened can definitely be explained away, but not all of it.
The Steelers would go on to lose the next game in Cincinnati to the Bengals 27-17. They rebounded quickly, beating the Colts by four points, but followed it up with a two-point loss to the Browns in week 17. Exceptions can once again be made for week 17. Black and Gold entered the week without their starting QB, TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, and Maurkice Pouncey. Operating with backup QBs and facing a red hot Browns team spelled doom for the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium that day.
“Playoffs?? Don’t Talk About Playoffs, You Kiddin’ Me?”
Ok, so Jim Mora is NOT the head honcho for the Steelers, but that statement sums up quite perfectly what happened in the AFC Wild Card round. Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost in a very un-Steeler-like fashion in a 48-37 blowout. For decades the Steelers have been known for having gritty, hard-working, bullies on defense, that beat you up and keep their team in the game. Not on this day though. The Browns opened the flood gates right away creating a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. There was a bit of back and forth throughout the game but the Black and Gold never recovered, leaving the Browns to face the Chiefs in the Divisional round and leaving Tomlin and his staff to ponder how things could start so well and end so badly.
Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers
The 2020 campaign was very much a tale of two clubs heading in very different directions as the season wore on.
Buffalo Bills were on the rise and getting stronger and stronger as the season progressed. They impressed the critics and were considered to be a serious contender for the AFC Championship. Pittsburgh was a team criticized by many and caught skeptical gazes as their perfect start to the season went on. Everyone waited to see if they could hold it together or if everything was about to fall to pieces at exactly the wrong time.
The critics and skeptics were right this time, and one team went home day one of the playoffs while the other team fell just one win short of making it to the big show in Tampa on February 7th.
Now that you have refreshed your memory on last season’s tilt, don’t miss out on part II where I preview the upcoming Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers game this week!
You can find all my articles including Part II (week 1 preview) of this two-part series anytime on Sports Obsessive