The 2019 Bills are worthy of your attention, however. They are back in the NFL playoffs, clinching a postseason berth in the AFC with an inelegant but effective 17-10 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field.
“I definitely think we’ve got a resilient group,” quarterback Josh Allen told NBC after the game. “No matter what gets thrown at us, we stick together and try to fight through it. Hats off to our defense. They played fantastic tonight. The offense wasn’t pretty. We got the job done. We got [win] number 10. We knew that we were playing for.”
The Bills will make their second playoff appearance in three years — and also only their second since the 1999 season. They improved to 10-4 and remained only a game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The Bills face the Patriots on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.
“We’ve got a really good opponent next week in New England,” Allen said. “We know that. And we’ve got to go out there and try to win that one.”
The Bills have their first 10-victory season of this century. They were making their first appearance on “Sunday Night Football” since 2007.
This is a team capable of winning in the postseason. Coach Sean McDermott has given the Bills an identity since arriving in 2017 and immediately ending a string of 17 straight non-playoff seasons.
The Bills run the football and play defense. They have a second-year quarterback, in Allen, who has thrived as a runner and is improving as a passer. They entered this weekend’s play ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing offense and second in scoring defense. They won in their typically rugged fashion Sunday night.
“Coming to Buffalo three years ago now — 2-1/2 years ago, whatever it’s been — a lot of people said, ‘Why are you going there? You’re not going to be able to get it turned around,’ ” McDermott said during his postgame news conference. “We got it turned around—with a lot of work yet to do. We haven’t arrived. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But I’m just humbled by it.”
Allen ran for a touchdown and threw for a touchdown for the Bills. They trailed 10-7 entering the fourth quarter. But they drew even on a field goal and took the lead for good on Allen’s 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Kroft with just less than eight minutes remaining.
It was a defense-first game. The Bills committed two turnovers, as Allen threw an interception and tailback Devin Singletary lost a fumble. But the Buffalo defense forced five turnovers by the Steelers.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White had two of the Bills’ four interceptions of Pittsburgh quarterback Devlin Hodges, the second of which set up the tying field goal in the fourth quarter. The Steelers also lost a first-half fumble by wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a wildcat-formation running play that began at the Buffalo 10-yard line.
Hodges threw an end-zone interception to Bills safety Jordan Poyer on a fourth-and-seven play from the Buffalo 23-yard line with just less than two minutes left. The Steelers forced a Bills punt and drove to the Buffalo 26-yard line. But Hodges was sacked and then threw an end-zone interception to cornerback Levi Wallace with six seconds to go.
“They’ve got a really good defense,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said at his postgame news conference. “We knew that. And they confirmed it.”
Hodges threw a third-quarter touchdown pass to tailback James Conner but the Pittsburgh offense was ineffective and error-prone. The Steelers had their three-game winning streak ended and fell to 8-6, although they held on to the second wild-card spot in the AFC.
Tomlin has done a superb coaching job this season. He has won without wide receiver Antonio Brown and tailback Le’Veon Bell, who exited in the offseason. He has won without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, out with a season-ending elbow injury. He has won games with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. He has won with Hodges, an undrafted rookie, at quarterback. The three-game winning streak came minus Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Conner was back in the lineup Sunday but Smith-Schuster remained sidelined by a knee injury.
Tomlin recently benched Rudolph in favor of Hodges. Could he sit Hodges in favor of Rudolph? He did not address the topic when asked after the game.
“I’m not getting into that, guys,” Tomlin said. “We just lost a football game. I’m not going to make an announcement every week or every time I stand in front of you guys in terms of who’s playing quarterback or any other position, for that matter.”
The Steelers still might get into the postseason field. But the Bills already are there.
“The guys in that locker room, they don’t back down from no one,” White told NBC. “When our back’s against the wall, we know how to respond. So going into any arena or going against any opponent, I feel confident in the guys in my locker room because I know the preparation we put together.”
Live updates and highlights can be found below.
December 15, 2019 at 11:16 PM EST
Another interception for Bills
Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer had an end zone interception of a fourth-and-seven pass thrown by Devlin Hodges. The play began from the Buffalo 23-yard line. It was the Bills’ third interception of the night and the Steelers’ fourth turnover. (Bills 17, Steelers 10 with 1:54 left in the 4th quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 10:52 PM EST
Allen’s TD pass puts Bills in front
The Bills took the lead on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Josh Allen to tight end Tyler Kroft on a third-and-nine play. Allen had a 40-yard completion to wide receiver John Brown earlier on the drive, and tailback Devin Singletary contributed a 15-yard run. (Bills 17, Steelers 10 with 7:55 left in the 4th quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 10:39 PM EST
Bills draw even
The Bills got even on a 36-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Hauschka. That was all Buffalo could manage on a drive that began at the Pittsburgh 18-yard line after cornerback Tre’Davious White’s long return with an interception. (Bills 10, Steelers 10 with 12:23 left in the 4th quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 10:30 PM EST
Hodges throws another pick
Make it two interceptions thrown by Devlin Hodges, both to Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, and three turnovers for the Steelers. White intercepted a sideline pass intended for wideout Diontae Johnson and sprinted 49 yards to the Pittsburgh 18-yard line. (Steelers 10, Bills 7 with 1:24 left in the 3rd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 10:11 PM EST
Bills lose fumble
Buffalo running back Devin Singletary lost a fumble when he had the football knocked from his hands by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt on a run. The Steelers recovered and take possession at their own 31-yard line. (Steelers 10, Bills 7 with 9:01 left in the 3rd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 10:02 PM EST
Conner’s TD gives Steelers the lead
The Steelers have their first lead of the night after an 11-yard touchdown pass from Devlin Hodges to tailback James Conner, who broke a tackle on his way to the end zone. A 29-yard completion from Hodges to wide receiver Diontae Johnson got the Steelers going earlier on the drive. Johnson fumbled for the second time on the night. But this time, the Steelers recovered. (Steelers 10, Bills 7 with 11:18 left in the 3rd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 9:53 PM EST
Halftime in Pittsburgh
The Bills and Steelers began Sunday’s play in possession of the two wild-card playoff spots in the AFC, but you wouldn’t know it from the way their offenses are playing at Heinz Field tonight. The Bills lead, 7-3, after a sleepy first half in Pittsburgh.
The Bills got a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh Allen in the opening minute of the second quarter after a scoreless first quarter. That was about it for the half’s offensive production. The Steelers managed only a field goal and committed two turnovers. Quarterback Devlin Hodges threw an interception and wide receiver Dionte Johnson lost a fumble after taking a handoff from tailback James Conner on a play run from wildcat formation. It was a costly gaffe for the Steelers. The play began from the Buffalo 10-yard line after they took possession at the 20-yard line following an interception thrown by Allen. The play was a mess from the start, with Conner needing to pick up the football off the turf following a low shotgun snap.
Allen had a first-half passer rating of 39.6. He threw an interception and had 64 passing yards. And he still was the better quarterback in the half. Hodges threw an interception and had 43 passing yards. He had a passer rating of 18.4. The Steelers had 64 yards of total offense in the half. Coach Mike Tomlin recently benched Mason Rudolph in favor of Hodges. It’s worth wondering if he might bench Hodges in favor of Rudolph in the second half. (Bills 7, Steelers 3 at halftime)
December 15, 2019 at 9:40 PM EST
Steelers fumble, fail to convert on pick
The Steelers took possession at the Buffalo 20-yard line after cornerback Steven Nelson intercepted a pass by Josh Allen and provided a 33-yard return. They benefited from a generous face-masking penalty called on the Bills and reached the 10-yard line. But then they gave the football right back to the Bills when Diontae Johnson lost a fumble. James Conner took a low snap in wildcat formation and handed the ball to Johnson, who lost it soon thereafter. (Bills 7, Steelers 3 with 1:53 left in the 2nd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 9:11 PM EST
Steelers get FG
The Steelers replied to the Bills’ touchdown with a field goal. Kicker Chris Boswell connected from 49 yards. A 34-yard completion from Devlin Hodges to wide receiver James Washington was the big play on the drive. (Bills 7, Steelers 3 with 11:26 left in the 2nd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 9:05 PM EST
Bills score first
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bills reached the end zone first via a one-yard touchdown run by Josh Allen. It was Allen’s ninth rushing touchdown of the season. The Bills had to move only 40 yards after a 22-yard punt by Pittsburgh’s Jordan Berry. Allen lost the football at the end of a third-down scramble on the drive but was ruled down by contact first — correctly — and the Bills retained possession and proceeded by convert a fourth-and-six try from the Pittsburgh 36-yard line on a completion from Allen to wide receiver John Brown. (Bills 7, Steelers 0 with 14:22 left in the 2nd quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 8:42 PM EST
Hodges throws pick
The offenses are off to a slow start at Heinz Field, and Devlin Hodges contributed to that by throwing an interception. His deep pass intended for wide receiver James Washington instead was grabbed by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. (Bills 0, Steelers 0 with 8:50 left in the 1st quarter)
December 15, 2019 at 7:45 PM EST
Tomlin keeping Steelers in playoff hunt
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin is working wonders this season. He’ll try to continue that Sunday night in Pittsburgh when the Steelers face the Bills in a game with major playoff implications for both teams.
When Sunday’s play began, the Bills and Steelers held the two wild-card spots in the AFC. The Bills, who enter the game with a record of 9-4, can clinch a postseason berth with a victory. It would be their second playoff appearance in three years — and only their second since the 1999 season.
The Steelers enter on a three-game winning streak that has upped their record to 8-5. The fact that they’re in playoff contention is a testament to the remarkable job being done by Tomlin.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was traded in the offseason. Tailback Le’Veon Bell exited in free agency. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lost to a season-ending elbow injury.
Tomlin has won games this season with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Now he’s winning games with undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges at quarterback. He’s winning games not only minus Bell and Brown. He’s been winning games without their replacements, tailback James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Conner is expected to return to the lineup against the Bills after missing three games with a shoulder injury. But Smith-Schuster will miss a fourth straight game after aggravating his knee injury Thursday on the practice field. The Steelers again will rely on James Washington and Diontae Johnson at wideout.
On defense, Pittsburgh must deal with Bills quarterback Josh Allen, the second-year pro who has improved as a passer and remained a threat running with the football. The Bills win with their running game and defense. They’re ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing offense and second in scoring defense.
December 15, 2019 at 7:40 PM EST
How to watch Bills at Steelers
When: Sunday at 8:20 p.m.
Where: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh