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Le’Veon Bell’s Record Setting Day Leads Steelers to 27-20 Win Over Bills

December 12, 2016
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Le’Veon Bell’s Record Setting Day Leads Steelers to 27-20 Win Over Bills

The one-way halftime conversation between Mike Tomlin and his offensive staff had to go something along these lines:

“Just run the damn ball!”

It’s a simple old-school order and while Tomlin would not say he issued that decree on an old-school, snowy Sunday afternoon, it was carried out in the second half as if he had.

After Ben Roethlisberger threw 26 times in the first half and tossed two bad interceptions that denied one Steelers score and led to another for Buffalo, after Le’Veon Bell carried 13 times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and the Steelers somehow clung to just a 7-point halftime lead, someone on their staff snapped out of it.

“We had to feed him the ball,’’ guard David DeCastro declared.

Bell ran nine of the 10 plays on their first offensive series of the second half, rushed for 72 yards on their 82-yard drive, scored his third touchdown rushing and put the Steelers ahead, 21-7.

“We kind of changed up the game plan a little bit in the second half and we came out there and executed really well,’’ said Bell, whose fourth consecutive 100-yard game puts him at 1,053 for the season.

He never stopped getting the ball after the half as the Steelers ran all over Buffalo, 27-20, for their fourth victory in a row.

Bell set the franchise record with 236 yards rushing and tied one with his three touchdowns runs. He carried 38 times, 25 (of the team’s 34 total) in the second half. He also caught four passes for another 62 yards, giving him 42 plays from scrimmage for 298 yards.

The Steelers ran their record to 8-5 and are alone atop the AFC North Division pending a game tonight between second-place Baltimore (7-5) at New England.

“Whenever we ran the ball, they couldn’t stop us,’’ tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “So when we came back out [for the second half] and we were up by one score, Coach Tomlin said ‘Hey, let’s get the ball in Le’Veon’s hands and carry us out of the stadium.’”

He did just that.

“Amazing, amazing, amazing,’’ said Roethlisberger, who won for only the second time in the 11 games in which he has thrown at least three interceptions.

All three were costly but ultimately not damaging to their cause. The first came at Buffalo’s 15 on the opening series, denying the Steelers a score. The second allowed the Bills to get back in the game when his pick was returned 31 yards to the 7. Buffalo scored on Tyrod Tayor’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins to cut the lead to 21-7.

And his third came from the Buffalo 7 in the fourth quarter, denying the Steelers another score.

“They made some good plays on us,’’ Roethlisberger explained. “When you’re running the ball as well as you do, might as well stick to it.”

Those three interceptions masked just how dominant the Steelers were Sunday on offense and defense. They held the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack to just 67 yards and shut down Shady McCoy, who came in with 5.5 yards per carry, to 27 yards, 2.3 on average.

They also sacked Taylor five times, two by Bud Dupree and 1½ by rookie safety Sean Davis. The outside linebacker rotation that was in effect all season ended abruptly here because Harrison played every snap and Dupree played in all but a handful.

Rookie Artie Burns also picked off his third pass of the season as the Steelers held the Bills to 275 total yards while piling up 460 of their own.

“We weren’t going to get the opportunity to rush Tyrod and we weren’t going to be able to create turnovers unless we minimized the running game,’’ said Tomlin, presented with the game ball by Roethlisberger for his 100th regular-season victory. “We worked hard at it and we were able to do it.”

Once in the middle of the pack against the run, the Steelers have allowed 247 yards rushing over their past four games, an average of just under 62.

“I think we’re really coming together in all three phases,’’ Gilbert said of his team. “We really need to do that. It’s a critical time of year. This is December football.”

Yet in the first half, it was almost as if the Steelers wanted to show December football could be played in the air. Roethlisberger threw 26 times and completed just 14 with two going to the Bills. Whether he was off or his receivers were not on point, the passing game was terrible. He finished 17 of 31 with no touchdowns, those three interceptions and a horrendous 37.8 passer rating.

The day belonged to Bell and his blockers, who came to the rescue.

“We ran the ball to the right, we did well,” Gilbert began. “We ran the ball to the left, we did a damn good job. It was an incredible feeling to come out of the game and hold the Steelers rushing record.”

Said guard David DeCastro, “We realized the run was there and we just stuck with it and pounded away. It’s awesome. I mean, come on, that’s pretty cool. Let’s be honest.”

They all loved the atmosphere, too.

“December football, cold, we set a franchise record rushing,’’ DeCastro said. “It’s kind of one of those games you dream of.”

There was another a few years back, a snowy game at Heinz Field in which, like this year, the Steelers entered with a 7-5 record and needed to win out to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger was their quarterback.

An iconic photo remains from that day with Jerome Bettis running over All-Pro Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in the snow on the way to a touchdown and a victory.

The Steelers never stopped winning in that 2005 season. It was the first of eight in a row that delivered their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

Maybe it’s only a coincidence.

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