A Pittsburgh PUMMELIZATION!

Let's stress the positive first. In losing 20-3 to the Steelers at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sept. 30, the Bills didn't give up 555 yards of offense as they had at Indianapolis a week earlier. At least they showed some improvement. Of course, that's probably not because of anything Buffalo did. The Steelers' offense isn't exactly the machine that Indianapolis' offense was (at least before its 44-13 loss to New England).

But, don't forget, Pittsburgh also had 21 days to rest up for the Bills, and most of that time to prepare, leaving Buffalo with little hope of winning.

So where does this loss leave 0-3 Buffalo? The reality is that the Bills aren't just among the youngest NFL teams, but also among the worst NFL teams with some of the worst offensive lines, defensive lines, quarterbacking, worst injury situations.

"It's not disappointing ­ pissed . . . Not discouraging ­ pissed," head coach Gregg Williams said, bottom-lining his feelings about the Bills. "I got to take a look at it from top to bottom. I'll go back and look at it, and I'll evaluate every area."

When Williams looks at it, dissecting the areas in which Buffalo erred, he'd better have a cast-iron stomach because that dissection is sure to sicken him.

This game will be remembered for its putrid offense ­ by both teams ­ and injuries. Rob Johnson and the Steelers' Kordell Stewart showed how not to play quarterback in the NFL, with a variety of overthrows and bounced passes to their receivers. But to be fair, the Steelers' offense was a little less putrid. The reason was their running game, and that the Bills' defensive line is weak, with feeble linebacking play behind it.

Then there are the injuries. Starting offensive tackles John Fina and Jonas Jennings didn't suit up. Buffalo then lost backup left tackle Kris Farris in the first quarter to a broken leg. That thrust first-year player Jon Carman ­ fresh from the practice squad (though he probably thought he was still on the practice squad by the way Sunday's game unfolded) ­ into the lineup. Left defensive end Phil Hansen dislocated his right elbow during the third quarter. Erik Flowers moved over to left end, with rookie Aaron Schobel playing for Flowers at right end. Bryce Fisher would have filled in for Hansen, except that Fisher was inactive because of a broken right thumb himself.

Under tackle Leif Larsen, who played extensively in the Bills' defensive line rotation the first three games, also dislocated an elbow. That meant no one could spell Shawn Price. Wide receiver Jeremy McDaniel, Buffalo's steady third wide receiver, suffered a high ankle sprain after catching two passes for 37 yards through the first half.

But even with an inexperienced starting lineup and even more inexperienced backups, Williams wasn't willing to concede that injuries hurt his club. "Injuries will never be an excuse," he said. "The guy who steps in there, there's no excuse for not knowing what to do ­ none. It wasn't a case of not knowing what to do. It was just not doing it."

Look, it can't be ignored that Buffalo started rookie Marques Sullivan at right tackle and first-year player Farris at left tackle, to go along with first-year right guard Corey Hulsey and inexperienced Billy Conaty (four career starts at center). Then first-year player Carman came in for Farris. These things are major reasons why Rob Johnson was sacked four times. The Buffalo line was thin even in training camp ‹ with Jerry Ostroski at right guard, Fina at left tackle and Jennings at right tackle. Now it's thinner than Christina Aguilera.

Williams won't admit that his team lacks enough talent to be competitive, injuries or no injuries: "I'll never say that. Never."

Playing against a 3-4 defense, the Bills line couldn't handle pass or run blocking. Things went awry from the start. On the second play of the game Conaty was fooled on a nose tackle/left end-switch stunt, allowing himself to be bowled over by 293-pound left end Aaron Smith, who then sacked Johnson. That led to a quick four-plays-and-out series.

Later in the quarter, Farris was beaten to the inside by rookie right end Rodney Bailey, who made a quick move and was gone.

The two other sacks were more the result of Johnson holding the ball rather than getting rid of it, though he did his share of throwing the ball away as well.

Johnson's shining moments came during a 50-yard drive that started with three minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the half and the Bills trailing 10-0. Two passes to Jeremy McDaniel and one to Larry Centers helped set up first and goal from the Pittsburgh eight yard line. Then Johnson scrambled seven yards to the one, nearly popping into the end zone. Things went downhill from there, however. A Marques Sullivan false start penalty, then two incomplete passes held Buffalo to Jake Arians' 23-yard field goal.

In the running game, Travis Henry looked promising at first, gaining 21 yards on his first four carries. After that, it was sayonara. Of his next 13 carries, eight of them were for negative yardage or no gain. One of the no gains, was his fumble at the end of the first quarter. Pittsburgh free safety Brent Alexander rushed on a blitz that went unnoticed by the Bills' offense. Henry noticed, though, and he fumbled. Cornerback Dewayne Washington picked up the ball and went 63 yards for a 7-0 lead and what turned out to be the game-winning score.

Williams seemed perturbed by the way the defense played: "Watch 37 (Centers). He may be the starting middle linebacker next week." Can Centers play defensive line too? Because the four-man front hardly generated a pass rush and let running back Jerome Bettis collect 114 yards with a 5.2-yard average. Of Bettis' 22 carries, 21 were on first and second down, when Buffalo knew he'd be the go-to guy. And the Bills still couldn't stop him. Bettis had 83 yards rushing on 13 first downs ­ including a 30-yarder around right end that helped set up a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, extending the Steelers' lead to 13-3.

Buffalo didn't blitz its linebackers much to generate QB pressure, instead opting to keep its players in coverage. It figured Stewart could mess things up on his own in the passing game. Usually that's true because Stewart is as accurate as a broken compass. On this day, however, the Steelers could have left Stewart at home and still won with their running game.

Strongside linebacker Keith Newman admitted he played poorly.

"I was in position to make two plays ­ one that would have been a tackle for a loss in the backfield, one that would have been for a minimal gain on the wide receiver. I missed both of those plays, and both of them went for big yardage," Newman said. "I can't let that happen because I'm letting my defensive unit down when I don't make those plays that I should make."

Another person not making plays was Flowers, who didn't record a tackle, which is unacceptable for a starter.

Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala put the exclamation point on the performance with his 22-yard touchdown run through right tackle. With Stewart in the Shotgun and two backs flanking him, he pitched to Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who ran right,past Nate Clements and Aaron Schobel. Keion Carpenter tried to strip the ball from the back on his way to the score ­ but that didn't work. Ken Irvin made a poor attempt at tackling Fuamatu-Ma'afala at the goal line. But why would anyone have put his body on the line at that point? The Steelers probably would have scored on the next play anyway.

The Big Play Bills ball, second and five from the Pittsburgh 35 yard line, 19 seconds left in the first quarter, game tied 0-0. Travis Henry lined up as tailback in the I formation, took a handoff from Rob Johnson and ran left. Jay Riemersma was engaged with Pittsburgh outside linebacker Joey Porter as Henry approached. Porter fought off Riemersma's block to make contact with Henry. At about the same time, free safety Brent Alexander arrived to hit Henry also. The combined force caused the ball to come loose, at which point speedy right cornerback Dewayne Washington rushed in to catch it in stride off a perfect bounce. He never slowed down until he reached the end zone. Peerless Price tried to track him down, but Washington wasn't going to be denied.

"I was forced to cut it back," said Henry. "And when I was cutting back, I had the ball low, and he just knocked it out of my hand."

"It was a big play for us," said Washington. "At that point in time of the game, obviously that's something we stress. We want to try to score defensively. And I was just Johnny on the spot. I saw Brent hit the guy, and the ball just popped right up."

Leading indicators

Sack differential: The Steelers had four sacks; the Bills had two. The leader in this category in Bills games this season is now 3-0.

Third-down conversions: Buffalo was 5 of 13 (38 percent) while the Steelers were 4 of 12 (33 percent) so the leader in this category drops to 2-1.

Turnover differential: Buffalo had two turnovers and Pittsburgh had none. The leader in this category now improves to 2-1.

Rushing yardage: Pittsburgh rushed for 170 yards to Buffalo's 52. The leader in this category improves to 1-2.

No. of offensive plays: Pittsburgh had 55 offensive plays to Buffalo's 53. The leader in this category improves to 1-2.

Fast Facts

Larry Centers became the first NFL running back to catch 700 passes. He passed Gary Clark for 13th on the all-time receiving list.

The Steelers won just their second game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, moving to 2-7 all-time in Orchard Park.

The Bills had drives of five plays or less on six of 10 possession.

When the Bills face the Jets at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Ralph, they have the potential to go 0-4. That hasn't happened since 1985, when they were 2-14.


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