ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – Le’Veon Bell scored three times and set a franchise record with 236 yards rushing in finding traction on a slick, snow-covered field, leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers overcame three interceptions thrown by Ben Roethlisberger to win their fourth straight and improve to 8-5 and keep pace in the AFC playoff race. The loss all but mathematically eliminated the Bills (6-7) from contention, and puts them in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 years – the longest since New Orleans ended a 20-year drought by reaching the postseason for their first time in 1987.
After scoring in the first half on 3- and 7-yard runs, Bell put the game away on the opening drive of the third quarter. He had nine rushes for 72 yards alone and capped the 82-yard drive by waltzing into the end zone from 5 yards .
Bell also had 62 yards receiving to account for 298 of the 460 yards gained by Pittsburgh. It was the second three-TD game of his career, and first in which he scored three times rushing.
Bell broke the franchise rushing record set by Willie Parker, who had 223 yards against Cleveland on Dec. 7, 2006
He also extended his streak to four-straight games with 100 yards or more rushing, a span in which he’s combined for 620 yards on the ground.
The Bills mustered no response on offense or defense at a time when both quarterback Tyrod Taylor and coach Rex Ryan are having their future in Buffalo questioned.
The Bills combined for seven first downs and 87 yards net offense on their first nine possessions. That included Sammy Watkins 8-yard touchdown catch set up by Stephon Gilmore returning Roethlisberger’s second interception to the Pittsburgh 7 midway through the second quarter.
Down 24-7, the Bills scored twice in the final 7:27 on Charles Clay’s 40-yard catch and LeSean McCoy’s 3-yard run with 1:25 left.
Taylor finished 15 of 25 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Ryan’s prized defense continued to struggle a week after Buffalo squandered a 24-9 third-quarter lead in a 38-24 loss at Oakland. Buffalo has now surrendered more than 200 yards rushing twice this season, including 256 in a 28-25 loss at Miami on Oct. 23, when Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi had 214 of those yards.
Roethlisberger finished 17 of 31 for 220 yards in continuing his struggles on the road. He has a 4-3 record away from Pittsburgh this season, when he’s thrown eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Roethlisberger’s numbers are far better at home, where he’s 4-1 and thrown 17 TDs versus three interceptions.
Buffalo linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown, on a pass intended for tight end Jesse James in the end zone, also had interceptions.
The Bills had minus-1 yards through two series in the first quarter, becoming the NFL’s first team this season to have negative yards through the first 15 minutes. Buffalo didn’t get into positive yardage until its first snap of the second quarter, when McCoy had a 9-yard run.
Steelers cornerback William Gay appeared to return an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter, only to have it nullified by a defensive holding penalty against Bud Dupree. What was amusing about the interception is how the ball landed in Gay’s hands. Bills receiver Robert Woods slipped to the ground and had Taylor’s pass hit him squarely in the facemask. The ball bounced up and directly to Gay, who ran it back from Buffalo’s 25.
The start of the second half was delayed for nearly 10 minutes because of a buildup of rubber pellets that accumulated along the sidelines. The piles of pellets, which are part of the artificial turf, gathered up when tractors swept the field of a dusting of snow during halftime. Workers were required to use blowers and shovels to push the pellets further off the field.
Steelers: At Cincinnati on Dec. 18
Bills: Host Cleveland on Dec. 18.
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