It’s almost time for the season to kick off. What better way to look forward to the season than to look back, with more than a little fondness, at the Bills’ history against the Pittsburgh Steelers? These two teams have met a total of 27 times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, and the record is a lot closer than many might have guessed.
From Dynasty to Dynasty
The Steel Curtain
Pittsburgh took an early lead in this series in 1970, toppling the Bills 23-10 and shutting down RB O.J. Simpson. (He gained almost half of his 60 total yards came on one of his 14 rush attempts.) Buffalo played it close, but eventually let it go in the fourth quarter. This would be the first blow in a back-and-forth spanning 60 seasons.
This was the greatest era of Steelers history, featuring legends like Mean Joe Greene, the ‘immaculate’ Franco Harris, and two-time Super Bowl MVP Terry Bradshaw. This team would goon to win four Super Bowl championships. But this isn’t about them. After handing Buffalo five losses in their first six matchups, the time had come for a counter-punch.
A Buffalo Beatdown
Spanning from 1980 to the 1992-93 divisional round, Buffalo beat down Pittsburgh a whopping 7-1 when they went head-to-head. The legendary Buffalo teams of the late ‘80s and early ’90s were a force of nature. They dominated teams of varying quality, but the Steelers were no laughing matter. The Bills’ final dominant victory for a long time in this series came in the 1992-93 Divisional Round. Buffalo, hot off the heels of ‘The Comeback”, blew the doors off at Heinz field, 24-3 en route to the third of four straight AFC Championship titles. The fill-in, backup QB Frank Reich, handled the offense with ease to cruise to victory. It would be the last victory for Buffalo until 1999. Return serve, I guess.
The Drought Era
Things seemed to take a turn for the better once more in 1999, under the watchful eye of CFL (and cereal) legend Doug Flutie. While embroiled in a QB controversy, Flutie was generally beloved by the fans. Buffalonians loved Doug for games exactly like this one, as he dominated a mediocre Steelers defense, putting up an impressive statline in the win: 21/32 (65.6% comp), 3 TDs, 261 pass yards, and 39 rush yards.
Following that season, the Pittsburgh Steelers went unbeaten against the Bills for 20 years. The last time we felt the bitter sting of their dominance was their brutal victory in 2016, deep in the Buffalo snow. For those who don’t quite remember that far back, Le’Veon Bell rushed for a Steelers’ single-game franchise record 236 yards and three rushing TDs on his workhorse 38 attempts. The score remained close because of Ben Roethlisberger’s three interceptions. However, it was yet another reminder that our offense was inept, and defense isn’t the entire game.
The Josh Allen Era
Then came 2019. Buffalo rolled into Pittsburgh feeling good. They were coming off an ultimately disappointing game against soon-to-be MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, but the season was still going well. They knew that with a win, they would clinch their second postseason berth in three years and the first of the Josh Allen era. But they were facing the only team they hadn’t beaten since the turn of the millennium.
The secondary shut Pittsburgh down all evening on Sunday Night Football. However, Buffalo and Co. couldn’t get the ball moving well against a still-fearsome Steelers D. If you haven’t seen what happened next, this article may not be for you.
“Renegade” happened, as a deep-shot to WR John Brown silenced the crowd, then a game-winning TD throw to TE Tyler Kroft put it all away. Buffalo clinched a playoff berth, early, for the first time since that fateful 1999 season.
In 2020, Buffalo finally got to put their best foot forward. Cruising into week 14, they found the formerly 11-0 Steelers reeling. They were coming off the wrong end of a stunning upset to the Washington Football Team. And things were about to go from bad to worse. After a slow start from both sides, Pittsburgh took a seven-point lead in the middle of the second quarter, before succumbing to the Bills’ streaky defense.
In an eight-minute span, led by a Taron Johnson pic-six, Buffalo scored three touchdowns to win the game comfortably. They didn’t stop winning there either.
That was only the third of an eight-game winning streak for the Bills; leading to the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh was left stranded, eking out a single, lowly win against the Colts before collapsing in epic fashion. They would fall face-first out of the postseason.
It’s been a long offseason since then. Both teams seem to have made improvements through the draft and free agency, but will Buffalo extend their winning streak? Find out on Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s Historic Playoff Drought
Despite all of their success, the Steelers haven’t always been good. In fact, they had a drought of their own, spanning a miserable 38 seasons. All the way from 1933 to 1971, Pittsburgh made the playoffs only one time, without winning. It’s for this reason that, during the AFL-NFL merger, Pittsburgh was ousted from the newly formed NFC to the AFC, going from ‘elite’ NFL company to the lower-level AFL teams.
The Shreveport Connection
Buffalo Bills Wall of Famer Joe Ferguson was high school teammates with Steelers legend and Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw. Ferguson succeeded Bradshaw as the starter for Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, taking them to a state championship in 1968.
For next week’s edition of rivalry history, as we take on the Miami Dolphins, click here.