Bills coach Sean McDermott took “Trust your defense” to the extreme Sunday night with a slim fourth-quarter lead against the Steelers.
Between its final two possessions, Buffalo ran the ball six times, totaled 12 yards and did not record a first down. McDermott’s defense was forced back onto the field twice needing to prevent a game-tying score. Both times, the unit picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Devlin Hodges.
The defensive effort sealed a 17-10 win at Heinz Field and sent the Bills (10-4) into the postseason for the second time in three years. It also ensured the team cannot finish worse than the No. 5-seed in the AFC, meaning it will almost certainly avoid a first-round matchup against the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh (8-6) appeared in control Sunday until Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White jumped a route in the third quarter for his second pick of the game. White’s 49-yard return set up a game-tying field goal and seemed to galvanize Buffalo’s defense, which did not allow a point in the fourth period.
Hodges, who had not thrown multiple interceptions in an appearance before facing the Bills, did little to seize control of a quarterback competition with teammate Mason Rudolph that has raged even as the Steelers have pushed for a playoff berth of their own.
VIDEO: Steelers-Bills highlights
Sporting News tracked live scoring updates and highlights from Steelers vs. Bills on “Sunday Night Football” Week 15. Here’s how Buffalo came from behind to win:
Steelers vs. Bills final score
Score, highlights, analysis from ‘Sunday Night Football’
Final: Bills 17, Steelers 10
11:22 p.m. — Intercepted. Game over. Levi Wallace snatches it out of the air. The Bills have clinched a playoff berth.
11:20 p.m. — On third-and-7, Hodges slings an eight-yard pass to move the chains.
11:18 p.m. — Buffalo’s defense is called for a facemask, then allows an eight-yard pass. The Steelers are at the Bills 29.
11:16 p.m. — The Bills run the ball three straight times (again), and are assessed a holding penalty on third down, which stops the clock at 1:40. Pittsburgh is still very much in this game.
11:14 p.m. — INTERCEPTED. Hodges floats a pass into the end zone on fourth down, and it is easily picked off. Not a good throw. Hodges may have had Washington open elsewhere on a crossing route over the middle, but he never looked that direction.
11:08 p.m. — Fourth-and-7 is coming up on the other side of the two-minute warning. The Steelers will presumably go for it.
11:07 p.m. — Hodges is sacked to set up a third-and-20 with 2:20 remaining.
11:05 p.m. — HODGES FINDS JAMES WASHINGTON. On third-and-1, Hodges airs it out and comes through with an accurate pass inside the 30. Crucial conversion.
11:01 p.m. — Pittsburgh has all three timeouts with 3:50 on the clock. It is at its own 40.
10:59 p.m. — Three straight runs and a punt for the Bills. That’s a lot of trust in the defense to keep stifling the Steelers, and not so much confidence Allen can execute a more aggressive approach without turning it over.
10:57 p.m. — Buffalo gets the ball back with a seven-point lead and seven minutes remaining. Will the Bills go conservative?
10:51 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Bills. Allen goes to tight end Tyler Kroft for the go-ahead score. 17-10, Bills.
10:46 p.m. — And just like that, Allen finds Brown for 40 yards. The Bills are in business.
10:44 p.m. — Allen is stuck at 85 passing yards five minutes into the fourth quarter. He’s found it increasingly difficult to move the ball as this game has progressed. He gets the ball back, though, with the chance to give Buffalo the lead.
10:36 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Bills. White’s interception leads to three points and a tie game. 10-10.
End of third quarter: Steelers 10, Bills 7
10:26 p.m. — PICKED OFF BY WHITE! That’s a game-changing play by the Bills’ defensive star, who also had an interception in the first half.
10:25 p.m. — Back in possession, the Steelers could take a two-score advantage with a touchdown. This offense has been so much better in the second half.
10:12 p.m. — Buffalo’s defense comes up with an important stop, sacking Hodges on third down to force a quick punt.
10:08 p.m. — Ball is out, and the Steelers recover. David Montgomery gives it away.
9:59 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Steelers. James Connor caps Pittsburgh’s impressive drive by making a catch out of the backfield and barreling into the end zone. 10-7, Steelers.
9:55 p.m. — Pittsburgh looks reinvigorated offensively to begin the second half. The momentum may not last, but the Steelers have moved into Bills territory in a flash.
9:53 p.m. — The second half is underway with the Steelers in possession.
Halftime: Bills 7, Steelers 3
9:39 p.m. — Buffalo lets the clock run out to enter the break ahead. The Bills lead after a rather sloppy first half.
9:35 p.m. — Fumbled right back! Horrible, horrible giveaway by the Steelers. They were in the red zone with a chance to take the lead.
9:31 p.m. — Intercepted! Allen’s throw tips off Cole Beasley’s fingers and into the hands of Steven Nelson, who returns the pick all the way to the Buffalo 20.
9:30 p.m. — Three minutes remain in the first half. Buffalo has the ball back and is again near the 50.
9:17 p.m. — Buffalo advances to midfield, but a couple of off-target throws by Allen stall out the drive. The Bills punt.
9:09 p.m. — FIELD GOAL, Steelers. Chris Boswell’s 49-yard kick puts Pittsburgh on the board. 7-3, Bills.
9 p.m. — TOUCHDOWN, Bills. Allen records his ninth rushing TD of the season. 7-0, Bills.
End of first quarter: Steelers 0, Bills 0
8:54 p.m. — Allen coughs up the ball — but not before his knee hit the ground. That initially looked like a big-time takeaway for the Steelers. Instead of a turnover, the Bills go for it on fourth down on the next play and convert.
8:51 p.m. — A 22-yard shanked punt from the Steelers gives Buffalo starting field position inside Pittsburgh territory.
8:47 p.m. — Major concern for the Bills defense.
Tre’ White waves to sideline right after making tackle. Points to his shoulder. Being tended to by trainers. #Bills
— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) December 16, 2019
8:44 p.m. — Buffalo fails to take advantage of its takeaway and punts for the second time tonight.
8:36 p.m. — Picked off. Nothing beautiful about that heave into double coverage. Hodges had no chance at a completion there.
8:33 p.m. — Hodges makes a beautiful throw to the sideline, hitting Diontae Johnson to move the chains.
8:29 p.m. — Buffalo gains 23 yards on its first drive but has to punt after picking up two first downs.
8:22 p.m. — The Bills receive the opening kick.