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.
Liriano sharp in Pirates victory over Rays
Russell Martin homered for the third time this spring and drove in four runs to lead Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
Martin had an RBI single during a six-run first inning against Rays starter Matt Moore and added a three-run homer off Grant Balfour in the fourth.
McCutchen leads Pirates offense in loss to Twins
Andrew McCutchen homered, doubled and singled Friday for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
McCutchen went 3 for 3, scored twice and drove in two runs. The reigning NL MVP is 8 for 11 in four games this spring.
Pirates, Jays rained out
The Toronto Blue Jays' spring training game at the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out Thursday.
The game will not be made up.
Pirates rough up Blue Jays’ Morrow
Brandon Morrow allowed five runs and six hits over three innings in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 6-4 loss Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Morrow was making his second appearance since a season-ending forearm injury last May. On Feb. 28, the right-hander gave up two hits and one run in two relief innings.
Steelers sign Polamalu, cut Foote
Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller are doing their part to help the Pittsburgh Steelers get under the 2014 salary cap.
The eight-time Pro Bowl safety and the venerable tight end both signed new three-year contracts with the team on Wednesday designed to give the Steelers some cap relief before the new league year begins next week.
Pens pick up pair of forwards
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t go for the big splash at the trade deadline this time.
General manager Ray Shero believes the little ripples his team made instead can be just as effective as the franchise pursues its fourth Stanley Cup.
Penguins snap out of slump
Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the game 7:29 into the third period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game skid.
Niskanen and the Penguins helped ruin the return of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in his first game since Oct. 22 following an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip.
Morton throws three scoreless innings in Pirates victory
Charlie Morton allowed one hit in three scoreless innings, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
Morton did not strike out a batter, but he kept Detroit off the bases during his short stint, aside from Don Kelly’s second-inning double.
Alvarez, Martin hit two-run shots in Bucs’ win
Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin hit two-run homers off Brandon Workman, who started in place of injured Jake Peavy, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Boston Red Sox 7-6 Monday.
Pittsburgh leadoff batter Starling Marte reached on an infield single in the first that stopped an 0-for-9 start, and Alvarez homered to right off Workman with two outs.
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