Steelers travel to Buffalo for rust-belt rivalry
Le'Veon Bell set the scene for Sunday's matchup between rust belt rivals Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
"It's December football," the Steelers running back said. "We understand everybody is fighting for position. We just want to get the job done. That's all there is to it."
The Steelers (7-5) have steered their season in the right direction, winning three straight after a four-game losing streak to move into a tie with Baltimore atop the AFC North standings and within one game of Denver for the final wild-card spot.
"We are in a good situation right now, but we obviously have to win this game and better," Bell said.
Pittsburgh controls its fate over the final four weeks of this season, but could cede that control with a single loss.
"We always want to worry about what's going on in the stadium we're in," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We don't want to have to look around. We've done that in years past. For us to just have to go out and take care of our own business is good for us."
The Bills (6-6) are further out on the fringe of the playoff picture, unable to catch New England in the AFC East and seventh in the wild-card race when tiebreakers are factored in.
Buffalo likely needs to win its last four games to end the longest active playoff drought (16 seasons) in North American sports.
But the Bills won four straight earlier this season, and enter a three-game home stretch hopeful they can repeat the feat.
"This experience right here could be the start of something new," Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "That's what we're trying to do and trying to establish. Take seize of it right now, this opportunity that we have. If we can do that, things start to turn around."
Coming off two consecutive wins, the Bills led by two touchdowns on the road at Oakland last week before quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo defense "imploded," as head coach Rex Ryan put it, allowing 29 unanswered points.
Buffalo's passing offense ranks last in the NFL and the Bills are 14-12 with Taylor under center over the past two seasons. Taylor's shortcomings have raised questions about whether the Bills should opt out of the lucrative contract extension they gave Taylor prior to the season.
"My future in Buffalo is this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers," Taylor said. "That's what matters the most. Other than that, I don't feel like talking about my contract. We still have games to play."
Frustrated with further questioning about his future in Buffalo, Taylor abruptly ended his news conference Wednesday. "I'm done talking," he said while throwing down his practice jersey.
Ryan defended Taylor's play, noting injuries to receivers Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay, among others.
"I just think it is easy to sit back and be critical, but if you are playing without five receivers in the game," Ryan said, "it is going to affect you."
The Bills are optimistic Woods can return this week after missing two games with a knee sprain. It would be the first time since Week 2 the Bills have had Woods and top wideout Sammy Watkins in the lineup together.
After averaging 34 points in their first four wins, the Steelers have not scored more than 28 points in each of their last three wins. A more balanced, ball-control offense has featured Bell more and more as winter approaches.
Bell, a Central Ohio native, knows what it takes to thrive along the rust belt this time of year.
"I played high school football in this weather," he said. "I was born into this."
Updated December 9, 2016