The ball was snapped and Jarvis Jones sprinted forward.
A moment later, he was in the Buffalo Bills backfield. A split second after that, Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel tumbled meekly to the Heinz Field turf in apparent surrender. Jones stood up and walked back to the Pittsburgh Steelers huddle. No big celebration. No histrionics necessary.
Instead, Jones was all business. The rookie linebacker figures he was just doing what he gets paid to do. Sure, he didn’t think he’d have to wait nine games into his career to pick up his first professional sack. Whatever joy Jones felt at ending the drought didn’t come close to the relief of helping the Steelers restore a sense of normalcy to their universe in a 23-10 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
“We just came out and played our style of defense,” Jones said. “We were getting after the quarterback, pressuring, giving our offense the best chance to put points on the board.”
The Steelers (3-6) spent a week reading the obituary on the 2013 season after the New England Patriots embarrassed them in a
55-31 loss. In the span of 60 minutes against a team in the midst of its own rebuilding process, Pittsburgh’s resilient defense played with the kind of discipline and tenacity it has lacked for significant stretches this year.
Buffalo managed just 227 total yards, 80 coming on a meaningless touchdown drive in the final minutes with the game already decided. Rookie Manuel never appeared comfortable in a pocket that never appeared settled. Running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson found little room to move.
Though the Bills aren’t the Patriots, not even close, Pittsburgh couldn’t afford to be picky. The Steelers had already been beaten by the likes of Tennessee, Minnesota and Oakland this season, and looked a step slow while doing so.
The missing step returned against Buffalo. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau promised a return to fundamentals in the aftermath of the debacle in New England. His players responded with sure tackling and a swagger seen only in spurts.
When Spiller or Jackson tried to bounce a run outside, the Steelers shut the door. When Manuel tried to avoid pressure, Pittsburgh chased him down. When he looked for a receiver, he often checked off to a safety valve for a short gain because nobody else was open.
“We didn’t have to press in any way,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We didn’t have to create plays or do anything extra. Everybody was able to just do their job and I guess that was a big thing for us as a secondary was not trying to play everything.”
Instead, Clark and company could sit back and attack whenever Manuel tried to challenge them. When Manuel threw deep over the middle in the fourth quarter hoping to kick-start a rally, Clark tracked it down and returned it deep into Buffalo territory to set up a late field goal.
Clark briefly considered pitching the ball to Troy Polamalu before keeping it himself. Though Clark ended up 13 yards short of the first touchdown of his 12-year career, he wasn’t exactly complaining. It hadn’t been the easiest week for the Steelers. His pick helped seal Pittsburgh’s best performance of the year and lay the groundwork for what it hopes is a more productive second half.
“The only thing we could do is try to prepare enough to beat the Buffalo Bills and be a good enough team to do that,” Clark said. “That’s all the week offered us, and that was the goal.”
The next one will be significantly tougher: NFC North-leading Detroit Lions (6-3) and all-everything wide receiver Calvin Johnson Sunday. The Lions present a significant step up in class. The game plan, however is unlikely to change. It rarely does for one of the NFL’s most stable franchises.
“You just want to stop the run and get after the quarterback,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “You get after the quarterback, you allow your secondary to make plays. You do that, you play good against the run, you do what you’re supposed to do and your offense puts points on the board and usually you’re in a good spot.”
The ball was snapped and Jarvis Jones sprinted forward.
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Bengals make low offer to Hawkins
Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins grew up with the Cincinnati Bengals while following his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr.’s NFL career.
The younger Hawkins could see himself wearing a Bengals uniform and playing wide receiver in Cincinnati for years to come. But the Bishop McCort High School graduate knows the business side of the NFL sometimes gets in the way of the storybook ending.
Second place little consolation to contenders
Perspective can be a tricky thing in athletics.
Just ask Richland’s Nico Pecora and Bedford’s Jon Gabriel.
PIAA wrestling notebook: Murin not pleased with fifth place
Max Murin won the first 36 matches of his varsity career.
But the Central Cambria freshman was disappointed after he dropped two consecutive bouts on Friday night at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
Berlin girls avenge earlier loss to Portage
Berlin Brothersvalley was highly motivated to play Portage on Saturday in their PIAA Class A girls’ first-round basketball matchup at Central Cambria High School.
The Mountaineers, who lost at Portage earlier in the season, held the Mustangs to a single basket in the first half on 1 of 21 shooting Saturday and went on to a 59-42 victory.
Shade girls nip Bishop Carroll
Alexis Meck isn’t the first name that comes to mind when the Shade girls’ basketball team is the topic.
On Saturday, her name was the last in the scorebook as the Panthers edged Bishop Carroll 56-54 in a PIAA Class A first-round game at Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center.
Conemaugh Township eliminated
After weathering Summit Academy’s first-half dominance and using the third quarter as a springboard to their first lead of Saturday’s PIAA Class AA boys first-round game, it appeared that District 5 champion Conemaugh Township had solved the Knights.
At the very least, the Indians had frustrated them.
Quaker Valley trips Richland in OT
There were just two shots taken in the overtime on Saturday in the first-round PIAA Class AA boys’ basketball game between Quaker Valley and Richland.
The Quakers had both shots including the game-winner by Winter Fondi with time winding down in a 42-40 victory over the Rams in a nailbiter.
Tomahawks drop key decision
Just two weeks ago, the Johnstown Tomahawks had earned points in five straight games, with four victories during that span.
Not so long ago, Johnstown had moved into a tie for second place in the NAHL North Division.
Pitt slips past Clemson in OT
Lamar Patterson had a career-high 30 points, including a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, as Pittsburgh overcome a five-point deficit in the final seconds of regulation and beat Clemson 83-78 in overtime Saturday.
Patterson’s 3 with 3 seconds left cut the Tigers’ lead to 67-65.
Robert Morris holds off St. Francis in NEC
Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones came up big again for top-seeded Robert Morris, with 21 and 18 points, respectively, but clutch free throws by David Appolon preserved a 60-57 victory over sixth-seeded St. Francis in a Northeast Conference semifinal on Saturday.
The Colonials (21-12) advance to Tuesday’s championship for the fifth time in six years, facing fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s (15-16).
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