'96 Steelers vs Bills (24-6)
Sept. 16th, 1996 1 2 3 4 Final
STEELERS 7 17 0 0 24
BILLS 3 0 3 0 6

Stewart photoWinning in the rain: Steelers run over Buffalo

Kordell Stewart runs away from the Bills' Emanuel Martin on a 48-yard screen play that set up the Steelers' first touchdown Monday night. (Marc Fader photo)
By Jerry DiPaola

Cornerback Rod Woodson said it best: "We can't let this go to our heads."

Nice thought, but that might be tougher to do than what the Steelers did to the Buffalo Bills Monday night in front of 59,002 at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers dominated the previously undefeated Bills with ease, 24-6, with 222 rushing yards and four interceptions and two sacks of quarterback Jim Kelly.

The game was indeed a spectacle to behold, especially for a Steelers team missing many of its best players. To their credit, the Steelers haven't let an injury-plagued season keep them down. "It's not the injuries, it's not the adversity that knocks you down," coach Bill Cowher said. "It's how you deal with it."

The Steelers (2-1) have done just fine - so far. "We can't get caught up in it," Cowher said. "It's still only Game 3." Still, he is hopeful. "We have a chance to be an OK football team," he said.

Nonetheless, many in the Three Rivers crowd might have been wondering:

  • If that was really 260-pound linebacker Levon Kirkland running with his back to Kelly and intercepting a pass with an over-the-shoulder grab. He added a second interception in the second half - his third of the season.

  • If those were really professional tacklers falling off Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who bowled over most of the Bills' defense on the way to a 43-yard touchdown run.

  • What Kelly was looking at - or thinking - when he threw a short pass to running back Thurman Thomas on the last play of the second quarter? Steelers strong safety Carnell Lake snared the interception - Kelly's third of four - and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. "I don't know if Kelly felt I could get to it," Lake said. All of the above happened in a six-minute stretch of the second quarter, giving the Steelers a 24-3 lead at halftime. They were scoreless in the second half while protecting the lead.

    When the game finally ended this morning, the Steelers had pulled into a tie for first place with the Houston Oilers in the American Football Conference. After a week off for both teams, a first-place showdown between the Steelers and Oilers is next Sept. 29 at Three Rivers. But the Steelers will spend a long time savoring this victory.

    Kelly was pressured by a defense that sacked him twice (Carlos Emmons and Chad Brown) and continually harassed him. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 99 yards. His four interceptions boosted his total against the Steelers at Three Rivers to nine in four games - all losses. Bettis, who gained 133 yards on 20 carries, shook off Bills linebacker Sam Rogers and safeties Kurt Schulz and Henry Jones on his 43-yard touchdown run. It was the Steelers' longest touchdown run since a 54-yard run by Barry Foster in 1992.

    Bettis' running mate, Erric Pegram, added 84 yards on 17 carries. It was a balanced offense with quarterback Mike Tomczak completing 12 of 19 passes for 150 yards, with no sacks and no interceptions. "It's an easy game when you are able to do that," Tomczak said.

    The victory lifted Cowher's Monday night record to 8-1 (6-0 at home). Three of those victories are against the Bills. Steelers haven't lost a home game on Monday night since Oct. 14, 1991, against the New York Giants.

    The game - played in steady rain - was the Steelers' show, but the Bills (2-1) had their moments. In the second quarter, the Steelers could get no more than Norm Johnson's 30-yard field goal after linebacker Jerry Olsavsky's second career interception. Olsavsky, who picked off a Kelly pass in last year's playoff game, cut in front of Bills rookie wide receiver Eric Moulds and returned the theft 4 yards. He took a chance and lateraled to Rod Woodson, who gained 14 more to the Bills 24. The Bills defense held the Steelers to 12 yards on seven plays.

    Not that it mattered, but the Steelers did all they could in the first quarter to help the Bills take a 3-0 lead on Steve Christie's 31-yard field goal.

    First, quarterback Mike Tomczak and fullback Tim Lester mishandled a handoff and Rogers recovered at the Steelers 49. With field position in their favor, the Bills didn't mind when they had to punt and Chris Mohr dropped one out of bounds at the Steelers 3.

    When the Steelers offense faltered, Josh Miller's punt fluttered 29 yards to the Steelers 41. The field goal was set up when Thomas ran 13 yards through the Steelers' hybrid, seven-defensive back defense on third down. Also, Steelers defensive end Kevin Henry was penalized for a hands-to-the-face foul, nullifying a sack by outside linebacker Chad Brown.

    But the Steelers quickly took control of the game. Their first score - a 1-yard run by Bettis with 3:55 left in the first quarter - was set up by a slick screen pass from Tomczak to Kordell Stewart. Stewart's legs get credit for 47 of those yards after he stepped out of the way of Bills defensive end Phil Hansen and raced to the Bills 13. It is the longest play this season by the Steelers.

    Two plays later, Stewart entered the game at quarterback but was stopped short of the goal on a delayed sneak. The Steelers then decided to score the conventional way - Stewart put it in Bettis' belly for a 7-3 lead.

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