Saved by Polamalu, once again

It takes special plays to dispose of these Bills

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There was an active and even robust football buzz in Buffalo this weekend for the first time in forever, with the recent blizzard of Bills touchdowns earning quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick the nickname Ryan Fitzmagic, and getting spectacular wideout Stevie Johnson called Stevie Wonder.

Fitzpatrick, caught up in the heady atmosphere of the rare two-game winning streak, even called on his Harvard education to tell the Buffalo News, "In order to beat [the Steelers], we're going to have to score some points."

So at least that $135,000 in tuition wasn't wasted.

Curiously though, Fitzmagic failed to specify how many points would be necessary. Turned out it was more than 16 in regulation, which he'd apparently rectified in overtime by whipping the winning touchdown pass 40 yards to Stevie Wonder at the goal line.

But Stevie, floating free behind Ike Taylor, dropped it.

Poor Stevie Blunder. Don't know what Fitzmagic was thinking as he left the field, but it wasn't "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life."

Even at that, the Bills gave Mike Tomlin's team way more than it wanted on a cold northern Sunday, and the visitors held on due mostly to one inviolate fact: In most matchups, the Steelers simply have too many players who are capable of monstrous plays at the most urgent coordinates, and most of them play without the ball.

"Needless to say we made significant plays at critical moments in the game," Tomlin said. "Troy [Polamalu] made significant plays, timely plays, the kind of plays we've come to expect. There's a guy who didn't practice much this week and yet he's always ready to deliver for his teammates."

The Steelers are 8-3 this morning essentially due to four special deliveries, one each from Polamalu, James Farrior, Ryan Clark and punter Daniel Sepulveda, whose 55-yard punt with a short snap from directly beneath the goalpost gave the Steelers a new grip on an overtime that was sliding over a cliff.

Abandoned by an offense that generated a touchdown on the game's first possession and then took the next three hours off, caught in a tug-of-war by an unlikely saboteur named Chris Kemoeatu (four penalties, three enforced), the Steelers' defense delivered one monster moment after the next until Shaun Suisham's fourth field goal closed out a 19-16 victory.

This is a defense that has allowed exactly one touchdown in the past 137 minutes, 9 seconds of action, including Sunday's 12:46 of overtime, an overtime that looked like the Bills would not even require as Fitzpatrick drove them to the Steelers' 12 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.

But when he tried to hit Johnson on a quick slant at the goal line, Willie Gay got a hand in the way and Polamalu swooped under the deflected football for his fourth interception of the season.

"I was one-on-one with Johnson and I was just trying to do anything to stop the slant," said Gay. "I don't even know what happened on the play. I looked up and Troy was running the other way."

The Steelers are now 20-3 all time when Troy intercepts, and Polamalu added a fumble recovery to account for both Steelers takeaways Sunday.

But this wouldn't end until the other safety made an even bigger play. Ryan Clark snaked his arm in front of Buffalo wideout Donald Jones just as Jones was about to convert a third-and-3 from the Steelers' 41 on the first possession of overtime. That pass gets completed, the Steelers are likely 7-4 today.

"It makes it so much easier to play defense when you have players like that," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "You don't have to be out there trying to do more than you're responsible for. The players we have who can make big plays are innumerable."

That was awfully fortunate, because even after Sepulveda's remarkable punt, and Stevie's blunder, the Bills still had a third-and-6 from the Steelers' 36, with the conversion meaning likely victory.

So cue James Farrior.

Fitzpatrick scrambled to his right, thought better of it when he thought he saw a seam up the middle, and got a faceful of Farrior just as he hit the accelerator.

"I saw the quarterback scramble and I thought Lawrence Timmons was going to get him," Farrior said. "He escaped that, but turned toward me; there wasn't a lot to that."

Except that the Bills never had the ball again and the offense awoke at dusk and rode Rashard Mendenhall on a seven-minute winning drive.

In the end, Troy Polamalu's shower went overtime as well. He was still in the spray at 5:28 p.m., 45 minutes after the game ended, at which point the Steelers closed the locker room. But I know what he would have said.

He'd have said that he was blessed, and, like Farrior, that there really wasn't much to it.

Of that, we are all blessed to know better.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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