Sunday, December 11, 2016

Welcome to your nightmare, the Steelers

By Jerry Sullivan
December 10, 2016
Image result for steelers bills ryan clark
Ryan Clark (25) returns an interception in the Steelers' 23-10 win over the Bills in 2013. (AP/Don Wright)
Look on the bright side. The Bills have a much better chance of making the playoffs than Hillary Clinton has of winning the election on a recount. They're still alive. All they have to do is win the last four games and get some help.
Still, it's never too early for a little playoff drought Jeopardy. Are you with me? Pick up your signaling devices and remember, don't buzz in too early and be sure to phrase your response in the form of a question.
The drought jeopardy answer is: Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rex, over at the bar,  you buzzed in first.
"What's the only AFC team that the Bills have not defeated during the playoff drought?"
Congratulations! Stop by the press box before the game on Sunday to pick up your souvenir photo of Tom Donahoe pounding on the desk during the 2004 finale.
Yes, the Steelers are the only AFC team with a perfect record against Buffalo in the millennium. The Bills are 0-5 against the Men of Steel during the drought, with five different quarterbacks and five head coaches. They have beaten every other AFC opponent at least twice over the last 16 years and change.
The Bills have lost nine of their last 10 against the Steelers, dating back to an embarrassing 23-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in 1993, the last Super Bowl year. Their last road playoff loss was to the Steelers in January of 1996. In the nine losses, the Bills have averaged 10 points a game.
So there's some sobering history here. The Steelers, who face the desperate Bills at New Era Field on Sunday, are hardly the ideal opponent for a team in a crisis -- more to the point, for a quarterback on thin ice and a head coach sliding toward the hot seat.
Over the last two decades, bad things have occurred when the Bills and Steelers get together. It's been especially nightmarish for quarterbacks, who have suffered some defining negative moments against the Black and Gold defense.
This is the time of year when, having run out of original things to say about the Bills on the field, I throw together a list of some of their worst losses of the millennium. It can seem like a needless torture. But I find it oddly refreshing, a momentary diversion from another heroic run to 8-8.
I haven't had time to re-evaluate the worst road losses of the drought since the Oakland game last week (where should it rank?). So here's a macabre walk down memory lane of the five losses to the Steelers during the drought:
2001, Week 3 at Buffalo. Steelers, 20-3. Tom Donahoe picked Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie as his quarterback when he became GM. But I'm not sure even he had much faith in Johnson at that point in Rob's career. Johnson, a Southern California version of Tyrod Taylor in the pocket, was at his worst that day.
The Bills had 172 total yards. Johnson threw for 104 yards and was sacked four times as they fell to 0-3. Alex Van Pelt relieved him and threw an interception. Kordell Stewart threw for 107 yards for Pittsburgh. What was it, the leather helmet era? Travis Henry fumbled and Dewayne Washington returned it 62 yards for a Steeler TD.
Johnson was gone after the season, but you knew his days were numbered that day.
2004, Week 17 at Buffalo. Steelers, 29-24. I almost feel guilty bringing this up. Aside from Super Bowls, it might be the most crushing loss in team history. You know the sad tale. They won six in a row and needed to win the finale to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh played most of the game with backups and beat them.
Drew Bledsoe was terrible. After rookie Willie Parker broke a 58-yard run to set up a go-ahead field goal, Bledsoe fumbled while being sacked by Ricardo Colclough and James Harrison ran it back 18 yards for a touchdown.
Donahoe had seen enough. It was Bledsoe's final game as a Bill.
2007, Week 2 at Pittsburgh. Steelers, 26-3. Once again, the Steelers ended a quarterback's run as the franchise guy. This time, it was J.P. Losman, who was brutal for the second week in a row, throwing for 154 yards and getting sacked four times. He also criticized his offensive coordinator after the game.
It was Losman's second straight pitiful game to begin the season. The next week, Dick Jauron turned to Trent Edwards as his starter, starting another promising but ultimately failed search for a true franchise QB. I think I need a drink.
2010, Week 13 at Buffalo. Steelers, 19-16 (OT): Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had replaced Edwards as the starter two weeks into the season, had a decent game -- at least by Bills standards against Pittsburgh. Fitz threw for 265 yards and tossed a potential game-winning pass to Stevie Johnson in overtime. Johnson dropped it.
Afterwards, Stevie blamed the Creator on Twitter: "I praise you 24/7!!!! And this is how you do me!!!!" Johnson said he would never, ever forget the drop. I'm doing my best to make sure the fans don't, either. Well, at least the Steelers didn't cost the quarterback his job this time.
2013, Week 10 at Pittsburgh. Steelers, 23-10. Coming back from a five-week knee injury, EJ Manuel was dreadful, throwing for only 79 yards in the first 55 minutes. Manuel seemed afraid to throw the ball down the field. The timid game plan reflected it. Later, Doug Marrone lamented bringing him back so soon.
A quarterback unwilling to throw the ball down the field? Sounds familiar. Regardless of the circumstances, that was the day when a lot of critics rightly decided that Manuel wasn't going to make it as the franchise guy.
That's the sad chronicle of Bills-Steelers during the drought. On Sunday, they play for the sixth time since 2000. Rex Ryan will be the sixth head coach to take a crack at them. Tyrod Taylor will be the sixth different starting quarterback.
A lot is on the line Sunday against a Steelers team that has won three in a row, allowing just 10 points a game in that stretch. They also have the most potent offensive trio in the NFL in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tailback Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
It could be Final Jeopardy time for the Bills. It's hard to feel optimistic. In desperate times, history tells us the Steelers come along to push them, and their quarterback, right over the edge.

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