Pittsburgh fullback Franco Harris bullied his way for two touchdowns, Sidney Thornton ran for a third and the famed Steel Curtain defense limited Buffalo to 156 total yards in a bruising 28-0 victory at Three Rivers Stadium today that gave the Steelers their sixth straight Afc cEntral championship.
"It's our show now -- playoff time," defensive tackle Dwight White gushed after Pittsburgh completed a 12-4 regular season, including an 8-0 record at home. Pittsburgh is the only NFL team unbeaten on its home turf this season and has won 14 straight at home over two seasons.
The victory clinched the home-field advantage for the Steelers through at least the AFC semifinals. If Denver beats San Diego Monday night, then Pittsburgh would be host for the AFC championship game also. The Steelers' semifinal opponent is undecided. It could be either Miami or an AFC West wild-card team.
But, to the Steelers, the week off is as important as the home field.
"This was a methodical game, lacking in emotion," said wide receiver John Stallworth, who caught four passes, giving him 70 this seson to surpass Roy Jefferson's club record of 67 in 1966. "We did it more for the division championship."
Terry Bradshaw, the Pittsburgh quarterback who completed 14 of 27 passes for 209 yards, said he planned to go home to his ranch in Louisiana, "walk around and look at the cows and horses, take my sticks (golf clubs) and talk with all those Cowboy fans down there."
This was a game that was typical Steelers -- the image now seen in those television commercials for tires and suitcases. They were intimidators, and they started off by blocking (by Joe Greene) a field goal on Buffalo's first possession and gaining momentum from there.
And, despite two interceptions and two lost fumbles, the offense was typical Pittsburgh, Bradshaw completed big passes to Lynn Swann (for the game's other touchdown), Stallworth and tight end Bennie Cunningham. Harris rushed 100 yards in 21 carries, making a first down each of the five times he was called on in third-and short-yardage situations.
"It's a good springboard to the play-offs White said. "That's the first shutout we're had in a long time (49 games). The offense played well. Special teams played well. It gives us the momentum we need, that confidence factor that we need. When other people look at that film, they will say, "Hey, the Steelers were playing their usual game, back to shutting people out.
"I thought it was just a great day in more ways than one."
One of those ways was the manner Dennis Winston played at left linebacker in place of Jack Ham, whose ankle injury Monday night against Houston will sideline him throughtout the playoffs and the Pro Bowl and may require surgery, the club announced today. Buffalo started the game running to its right -- at Winston. The Bills were not successful.
They're going to find it's a lot different," said the third-year player from Arkansas. "I probably play it a little more aggressively than Ham does. He plays it with a little more finesse. If they want to send them over there (toward him) and mess their team up, they can do that."
The Steelers hardly appeared to miss Ham and, as Swann put it, "That could prove to be the one important change over this ball club from last year. The most important factor is that we have depth at all positions."
Both teams appeared to have depth in punches and forearm shivers with seven unsportsmanlike conduct calls in the game. However, the most devastating call may have been unwarranted, said Bradshaw, who appeared to be kicked on the head intentionally by Buffalo rookie linebacker Jim Hassett, a Pittsburgh native.
Hassett was immediately ejected by referee Fred Silva. The television replay was inconclusive. Afterward, Hassett did not defend himself when given the opportunity. But Bradshw did: "I don't think the kid kicked me. I think he picked up his leg to avoid kicking me."
Bradshaw said the force of the tackle knocked his helmet off after the 10-yard run and that he skinned his head on the Astro Turf, not from being stepped on or kicked.
Greene and John Banaszak were seen throwing punches at Buffalo linemen, who Banaszak claimed were holding them. Tackle Ken Jones, who lines up opposite Banaszak, once was called for holding his Steeler opponent by the face mask.
On the retaliation, Banaszak, a five-year veteran, said: "The officials weren't going to call it (the alleged holding). I'm not going to take it any more. I've been a nice guy too long. The refs aren't calling it. Maybe because of my Polish heritage. It's taken me five years to realize it."
It was the 100th regular-season victory for the Steelers under Coach Chuck Noll, making him the 14th coach in NFL history to earn that distinction.