This is the worst possible time for the Bills to play the Steelers.
At first blush, the inclination might be that the reverse is true.
After all, Pittsburgh comes into Sunday afternoon’s game at Heinz Field, 2-6, at the season’s midway point and very well could be looking at the franchise’s worst record in 45 years.
The 1969 team went 1-13, coach Chuck Noll’s first year, and that league-worst record earned the Steelers the first pick in the following season’s draft. That just happened to be a quarterback named Terry Bradshaw who merely took Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl wins in a span of six seasons and began the winning legacy the Steelers have enjoyed pretty much ever since.
However, the last two campaigns have tarnished that reputation a bit.
Last year, Pittsburgh opened the season at 6-3, then tumbled to 2-5 down the stretch.
Hence, coming into Sunday, coach Mike Tomlin’s team has won only four of its last 15 regular-season games and its current playoff hopes are nothing more than longshot mathematics.
Meanwhile the Bills, who are 3-5 in a bizarre campaign during which injury has necessitated three different starting quarterbacks, seem to be on the rise.
So why is this a bad time to be playing the Steelers?
START WITH the fact Pittsburgh is a prideful franchise and just five days ago, Tom Brady and the Patriots hung 55 points on the Steelers, the most they’ve ever surrendered in their 81-year history.
If that embarrassment wasn’t enough, with the season at the midway point, if Tomlin’s crew envisions a turnaround, it has to start now.
As quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted earlier this week, “It’s tough ... we haven’t had anything like this since I’ve been around here (2004).
“(Tomlin’s) disappointed like the rest of us, but this is a new day, to a new week and a new opponent. We have to put the past behind us and move forward ... my approach is that right now we’re 0-0.”
CLEARLY, the oddsmakers believe him, making the Steelers a 3-point favorite.
And with good reason.
The Bills have played at Pittsburgh 11 times in their history — including playoffs — and are 2-9 in those games, 1-2 in the post-season, 1-7 during the regular schedule.
Buffalo has never won at Heinz Field (0-1), both its victories coming at Three Rivers Stadium. There was the 24-3 divisional playoff victory behind Frank Reich a week after the famed comeback against Houston that helped Buffalo to a third straight Super Bowl after the 1992 season, and in 1975’s second game, the year after the Steelers had thrashed Buffalo, 32-14, in the playoffs, O.J. Simpson led the Bills to a 30-21 victory, rushing for 227 yards, including an 88-yard TD sprint.
IN SHORT, the Bills have every reason to be wary come Sunday.
Indeed, first-year Buffalo coach Doug Marrone, who took over a team that has missed the post-season 13 straight years, admires the Steelers’ legacy.
In the 41 seasons since 1972, Pittsburgh has made the playoffs 26 times, going to eight Super Bowls, winning six.
And, oh yeah, over the last 45 years, the Steelers have had a mere three coaches: 23 seasons under Noll, 15 with Bill Cowher and seven under Tomlin.
No NFL franchise can claim that kind of longevity or success.
As Marrone noted of Sunday’s game, “The first thing that comes to my mind and how much respect I have for Mike Tomlin is that they’re going to come back (from that 55-31 loss) and they’re going to get after it.
“They have a lot of pride in that organization, a lot of pride in that program and a lot of pride in that defense. They’re going to be ready to go and we’ll get their best game.”
And over the history of those two teams, for Pittsburgh, that’s been more than enough.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)