After the interception that cemented Buffalo’s standing among the many N.F.L. elite, the Payments’ protection assembled and jogged the remaining size of the sector collectively, towards the tip zone and the cameras and oceans of blue seats. It was halfway by means of the fourth quarter Sunday on an evening at Payments Stadium that begged for followers, dancing within the aisles to “Shout” and swilling their Labatts and celebrating a victory that reverberated far past western New York.
Buoyed by a defensive landing simply earlier than halftime and two scores instantly after the break, the Payments toppled the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-15, with the end result evoking a pebble skimming throughout a pond.
One wave fanned out from the house locker room, the place a most harmful group continued to achieve confidence because it approaches a prize that has eluded it since earlier than its cherished quarterback, Josh Allen, was born: With a two-game lead over Miami, the Payments (10-3), who’ve the franchise’s greatest file by means of 13 video games since 1991, may clinch their first A.F.C. East title in 25 years as quickly as subsequent week.
One other ripple registered all through the Steelers (11-2), who solely every week in the past had been unbeaten — imperfect however unbeaten. Pittsburgh has misplaced two straight, and if Buffalo is hovering because the playoffs draw close to, then the Steelers are flailing, as if greedy for a light-weight swap at the hours of darkness, struggling with out an explosive offense.
However the greatest ripple of all jostled the A.F.C. panorama, the place the Steelers dropped behind the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs (12-1), who received in Miami, within the race for the highest seed within the playoffs. Even when the Payments’ playoff positioning itself didn’t change, they reasserted their place inside that hierarchy.
Because the N.F.L. has advanced, the very best groups are these with dynamic passing offenses and defenses that may decelerate the aerial recreation simply sufficient. Sitting on Ben Roethlisberger’s brief throws and blitzing him off the sting, the Payments hounded him into his worst recreation of the season.
“If I don’t play ok soccer, then I want to hold it up,” stated Roethlisberger, who went 21 of 37 for 187 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “I nonetheless really feel like I can do sufficient issues to assist this group win soccer video games, and I’ll do every part I can to get us again on monitor.”
A Pittsburgh protection, meantime, that embellished its bona fides the earlier six video games towards the likes of Garrett Gilbert and Jake Luton and Robert Griffin III was on Sunday uncovered by an unfamiliar phenomenon: a formidable passing assault. Lacking three starters, together with cornerback Joe Haden, the Steelers managed to include Allen and his cadre of explosive receivers for one half however not two.
In that first half, Stefon Diggs caught three passes, and after the Payments took a 9-7 lead simply earlier than the break on a 51-yard interception return by Taron Johnson — their first defensive landing of the season — they spent halftime finding out how one can unlock an offense that had gained solely 102 yards.
They did that in two methods, Allen stated.
One: “I began finishing it to the best guys.”
Two: “We began throwing it to Stef.”
Allen accomplished his first 11 passes after halftime, a stretch of brilliance that included touchdowns to Diggs and the rookie Gabriel Davis, neither of whom had been on the Payments final season.
Because the Payments sought to mildew Allen’s bountiful bodily expertise right into a reliable N.F.L. quarterback, they surrounded him with what could possibly be the deepest and most dependable receiving corps within the league. Heading that group is Diggs, who in his first season with Buffalo after being acquired in a commerce from Minnesota has caught 100 passes — tying the franchise’s single-season file. Six of these catches on Sunday (for 83 of his 130 receiving yards) got here on the 2 third-quarter scoring drives that capped a string of 23 consecutive factors.
“Diggs is so particular that as I see him play, I simply need to rip off my captain’s ‘C’ and throw it on his chest,” offensive sort out Dion Dawkins stated.
Earlier than Sunday, the final time Diggs scored was in Week 10 at Arizona, a late go-ahead landing that may solely be eclipsed by Kyler Murray’s game-winning Hail Mary. The Payments had received three in a row earlier than that loss, they usually have received three in a row since, overcoming the stage fright that doomed them in earlier defeats towards two different A.F.C. contenders, Tennessee and Kansas Metropolis.
The Steelers might not reside of their fears, as their coach, Mike Tomlin, likes to say, however they’ve now laid naked their shortcomings 3 times in 12 days. After enjoying what he referred to as “junior varsity” soccer in a detailed win over Baltimore, and producing “catastrophic” outcomes on short-yardage failures in a loss to Washington, the Steelers’ efficiency Sunday was not an aberration or an anomaly however proof of a development.
Requested if there was sufficient time earlier than subsequent week’s recreation towards Cincinnati to repair an offense that regained heart Maurkice Pouncey and working again James Conner however nonetheless averaged 2.8 yards on 17 carries, Tomlin replied with one phrase: Sure. If he’s mistaken, Pittsburgh could be smart to begin monitoring the Browns, who, in the event that they beat Baltimore on Monday evening, would inch inside a recreation of the Steelers within the A.F.C. North. The groups will meet in Week 17 in Cleveland.
That division could be unsettled, however the A.F.C. East isn’t. Lengthy the area of the New England Patriots, it quickly shall belong to the Buffalo Payments, who, week after week on this weird season, are making their followers want they had been there to see this ascent for themselves.