Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh
TIME: 01:00 P.M. EST
VENUE: Ralph Wilson Stadium
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost three games last season to opponents that entered those matchups a combined 6-26, so they have reason to be wary when facing a team with an ugly record.
All of a sudden, it doesn't seem possible to take the Buffalo Bills lightly.
The Steelers try to keep pace atop the AFC North on Sunday in Buffalo, where the Bills return looking for a third straight win a week after an astounding comeback.
Pittsburgh (7-3) dropped five straight after a 6-2 start last season, so it was eager to make sure a similar free-fall wasn't in the works after a 39-26 home loss to New England on Nov. 14.
The Steelers trailed 3-0 heading into the second quarter last Sunday against Oakland, but the struggles stopped there. Pittsburgh overcame a franchise-record 163 yards in penalties by scoring the game's final five touchdowns in a 35-3 win that kept it tied for first place with Baltimore.
"Last week was embarrassing," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "New England kind of just walked up and down the field on us. So we wanted to come in here with a new attitude."
The Steelers, however, won't be the only team on the field Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium that's scored 35 consecutive points.
Buffalo (2-8) did the same last Sunday in Cincinnati, though it took a while to get going a week after knocking off Detroit for its first win.
The Bills trailed 28-7 in the middle of the second quarter and 31-14 at halftime before Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdowns to Steve Johnson and Buffalo turned its 17-point deficit into an unlikely 49-31 win.
No team ever rallied from 17 down at halftime to win by as many points.
"It was awesome," said Fitzpatrick, who's tied for fourth in the AFC with 18 TD passes in just eight games. "Everybody believed the whole game. This was a big win for us. Once you get that first one, everything falls into place."
The Bills haven't won three in a row since opening 4-0 in 2008, but their passing game - specifically the Fitzpatrick-to-Johnson combination - gives them reason to feel confident this week. Only Kansas City's Matt Cassel-to-Dwayne Bowe combo has produced more touchdowns (11) than Fitzpatrick-to-Johnson (9) heading into Week 12, and Buffalo's tandem has played in two fewer games.
Pittsburgh's defense had been susceptible against the pass, allowing an average of 268.8 yards in its past six games before facing Oakland, but it was back to wreaking havoc. The Steelers produced six sacks, forced three turnovers and had an interception return for a TD wiped out by a questionable penalty.
Hardly the same defense that didn't produce an interception during a five-game skid in 2009, which included losses to woeful Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.
"I would say that we're in a better position right now than we were last season," linebacker James Harrison said.
Pittsburgh's offensive line has been consistently banged up all season, from losing right tackle Willie Colon to an Achilles' injury in July to putting left tackle Max Starks on injured reserve three weeks ago.
That's forced lots of shifting in personnel for a line that's struggled at times to protect Ben Roethlisberger or open holes for Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall had 59 yards on 23 carries against the Raiders and hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 3, but he might have a great chance to break out at Buffalo. The Bills have the league's worst rush defense, though they've allowed an average of 104.7 yards the past three weeks after a five-game stretch in which they surrendered at least 200 four times.
The Steelers have averaged 170.3 yards on the ground during a three-game winning streak against Buffalo dating to 2001.
Fred Jackson has topped 100 yards in consecutive weeks as the Bills have turned in their two best rushing efforts this season, but they shouldn't expect too many holes against Pittsburgh. The Steelers allow 63.0 yards per game on the ground, putting them on pace to be the league's best rush defense since 2006.
Bills coach Chan Gailey, who spent 1994-97 as an offensive assistant in Pittsburgh, knows his team still has plenty of work to do.
"We've gotten over a couple of humps," Gailey said. "Whether we are where we want to be right now, I can promise you we're not because our record says we're not.
"(But) do I think we're getting better? I think we're getting better."
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