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.
Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT
Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.
Brewers rally to clip Pirates
Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.
Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon
The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897. Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.
UPJ takes one, drops second
John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.
Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid
Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.
Drama lacking sans Tiger
If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
The course was there in all its splendor.
Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pirates power past Brewers
Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.
Jackets preparing for Game 2
The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.
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