PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent three hours making Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel look very much like the rookie he is.
Old times for a defense that has looked just plain old recently?
“No,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We used to be much better than that.
“It was a good day, though.”
A welcome one, too, in a 23-10 romp Sunday.
A week after a historic blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Steelers went back to basics, ones that rarely change for a franchise that rarely changes.
Run the ball. Get after the quarterback. Play with some menace. The result was Pittsburgh’s most complete performance this season, one the Steelers (3-6) insist still contains some cause for optimism.
“I think we went out there and answered the call today,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “We played like we’re always supposed to.”
The Bills managed just 227 total yards, nearly 400 less than the Patriots gained in a 55-31 whipping of Pittsburgh a week ago. That led to one of the more uncomfortable weeks in recent memory for a team accustomed to being near the top of the AFC North, not stuck at the bottom. The Steelers sacked Manuel three times and allowed Buffalo (3-7) to convert just 3 of 14 third downs.
Manuel completed 22 of 39 passes for 155 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his return after missing a month with a sprained right knee. He declined to blame his issues on rust, though he hardly looked like the dynamic playmaker that made Buffalo look so intriguing in September.
Battling a stiff breeze much of the day, Manuel struggled to find any rhythm against a defense smarting after giving up a franchise record for points and yards a week ago.
“I felt good throughout the game,” Manuel said. “Obviously, there were plays that I missed, but I have to get better from there. The wind wasn’t a problem.”
The Steelers, however, were another matter.
Pittsburgh limited the Bills to 95 yards rushing — 50 below their season average — as Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson found little room to maneuver against a defense that came in ranked 31st in the league.
There were no such issues for Pittsburgh.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Le’Veon Bell added 96 total yards and a score as Pittsburgh snapped a two-game losing streak. The Steelers, who came into the game 28th in the league in rushing, rolled up 136 yards on the ground and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes.
“We came in from the get-go wanting to run the ball and establish the run,” Bell said. “Buffalo had no opportunities to get back in the game.”
Even if it took awhile for the Steelers to establish their dominance.
Roethlisberger had accuracy issues early. He underthrew Markus Wheaton on Pittsburgh’s opening drive. Jairus Byrd stepped in front and returned it 57 yards to the Pittsburgh 29.
Led by Spiller and Jackson, the Bills made it all the way to the Pittsburgh 1. Rather than test a defense that has allowed the second-most TDs rushing in the NFL, Manuel lobbed pass toward the corner of the end zone that sailed well out of bounds. The Bills settled for a field goal and the Steelers had the confidence boost they needed.
“We know we’re way better than what we did last week in New England,” Steelers rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We had to come out and respond and keep responding.”
Pittsburgh scored the game’s next 23 points, going in front to stay when Roethlisberger ended an 86-yard march by finding Jerricho Cotchery with a pretty 5-yard touchdown to make it 10-3 with 1:55 left in the first half.
Any belief Buffalo had of rallying ended late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a 40-yard gain, and Shaun Suisham came on for a short field goal attempt. Buffalo jumped offside, and two plays later Bell used a block from tight end Mike Adams to give the Steelers’ their first 14-point lead at home this season.
An interception and a 50-yard punt return by Brown helped Pittsburgh tack on two more Suisham field goals, allowing the Steelers to enjoy a brief respite from two months of frustration.
NOTES: The Bills had four sacks, pushing their season total to 33, including a career-high five by DE Jerry Hughes. … Buffalo WR Stevie Johnson left with a groin injury and did not return. … Pittsburgh rookie S Shamarko Thomas left in the second quarter with an ankle injury did not return. G Ramon Foster also left with an ankle injury and did not return. … Bell’s 34-yard reception was the third longest by a Pittsburgh running back in the last seven years. … Cotchery has six touchdown receptions this season, tying his career high.