ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Allen threw two touchdown passes and safety Taron Johnson returned an interception 51 yards for a score in the Buffalo Bills’ 26-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
The Bills won for the sixth time in seven outings, and inched closer to claiming their first AFC East title since 1995 and third playoff berth in four seasons. Buffalo can clinch both as early as Monday night if Baltimore loses to Cleveland.
In four years under coach Sean McDermott, Buffalo has gone from being a team that endured a 17-year playoff drought, which ended in 2017, to an AFC contender.
“I think the biggest difference I guess you can say from 2017 to now is we just know we’re a good football team,” safety Jordan Poyer said. We know what type of offense we have. We know what type of defense we have.”
Sitting next to Poyer, Wallace interjected by saying: “Resilient football team.”
The Steelers provided Buffalo even more incentive when a TikTok video filmed before the game of Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster dancing on the Bills logo during pre-game warmups.
“I ain’t going to lie,” Poyer said. “Seeing them dancing on our logo pregame and seeing all that, that turns you up a little. You come to play with a little extra fire.”
Smith-Schuster and the Steelers weren’t asked about what happened following the game.
The AFC North-leading Steelers (11-2) have lost consecutive games in six days following a 23-17 loss to Washington, and dropped a game behind the AFC-leading Kansas City Chiefs (12-1). Pittsburgh was still able to clinch its first playoff berth in three years before kickoff by virtue of the Miami Dolphins’ 33-27 loss to Kansas City earlier in the day.
“We’ve lost two. We’re facing some adversity. But we’re not hitting the panic button,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
“Offensively we’re not very good. We’re not playing good football and it starts with me,” he added. “I think this is a team that has got a lot of resilience and understands what it takes to win football games and understands what time of year it is and right now it’s unacceptable.”
The Bills have won at least 10 of their first 13 games of a season for the first time since 1991.
Allen broke the game open by throwing touchdown passes 3:21 apart on Buffalo’s first two drives of the second half to put Buffalo ahead 23-7.
He opened the third quarter by capping Buffalo’s eight-play, 68-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. After the Steelers went three-and-out, Allen marched the Bills on a four-play, 57-yard drive ending with him hitting rookie Gabriel Davis for a 13-yard touchdown just inside the left sideline of the end zone.
Allen upped his season total to 35 combined touchdowns (28 passing, six rushing and one receiving) to break the team’s single-season record of 34 set by Hall of Famer Jim Kelly in 1991. His 28 TDs passing rank second most on the team list, and five behind the single-season record set by Kelly in ’91.
Allen finished 24 of 43 for 238 yards and an interception. Diggs had 10 catches for 130 yards. Acquired in a trade with Minnesota in March, Diggs now has 100 catches to match the Bills’ single-season record set by Eric Moulds in 2002.
Buffalo’s second-half eruption came after Allen and the offense managed just six first downs and 102 yards on seven possessions.
Johnson, however, provided the offense by stepping in front of Ben Roethlisberger’s pass intended for Smith-Schuster and returned it 51 yards to put Buffalo up 9-7 with 52 seconds remaining in the first half.
“Our defense stepped up big time, especially when we started out the way we did,” Allen said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that care about each other and we don’t want to let each other down. When we’re out there, we put it on the line for each other.”
The Steelers continue to resemble nothing of the team that set a franchise record by winning its first 11 games. Pittsburgh has been held under 20 points in three straight games, and was coming off a loss to Washington in which coach Mike Tomlin called out his team’s sluggish running attack and receivers for their dropping passes.
The drops continued with Diontae Johnson having two passes glance off his hands in the opening quarter. The Steelers also finished with 47 yards rushing despite the return of James Conner, who missed the past two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The game was decided midway through the fourth quarter after Buffalo’s Tyler Bass hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Bills up 26-15.
On Pittsburgh’s third play from scrimmage, Roethlisberger’s deep pass up the right sideline intended for James Washington was intercepted by Levi Wallace.
Roethlisberger finished 21 of 37 for 187 yards with touchdown passes to Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster and two interceptions.
The Steelers extended their sack streak to a 70th consecutive game to break the NFL record set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1999 to 2003.
Tyson Alualu was credited with Pittsburgh’s first sack of the game against Buffalo by stripping the ball out of the hands of Bills quarterback Josh Allen midway through the second quarter. The fumble was recovered by Bills center Mitch Morse for an 8-yard loss.
The streak began in Week 8 of the 2016 season.
Steelers: Starting LG Matt Feiler did not return after hurting his shoulder in the first quarter. Feiler’s replacement Kevin Dotson was ruled out after hurting his shoulder in the the third quarter.
Bills: Johnson did not return after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter. Morse missed several series in the first quarter after having a brace place on his left elbow.
Steelers: Continue run of prime-time games in traveling to play Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 21.
Bills: Travel to play Denver Broncos on Saturday.