Bills steel for one huge game

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

It is just past 4 p.m. on Oct. 24 and the Buffalo Bills have lost 20-6 to Baltimore, their fifth defeat in six games. Only the woeful Miami Dolphins are keeping the Bills from falling to the AFC East basement.

You run your finger down the Bills schedule to Sunday, Jan. 2, when it says the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town. You tap the paper knowingly.

HUGE GAME

"There it is right there. Biggest game in Bills history since the Music City Miracle."

You are either crazy or drunk.

Or maybe crazy-drunk.

And now, 11 weeks later, it's about to happen. Who says truth isn't stranger than fiction?

For the Bills to be still in a position to make the NFL playoffs on the final day of the regular season, dozens upon dozens of factors had to fall perfectly for them over the past two months.

More than anything, they had to get their own act together, then hope for some divine intervention.

Even now, just a win over the mighty Steelers won't do. The Bills need either the Indianapolis Colts to beat Denver or the St. Louis Rams to beat the New York Jets. Or both.

"All I know is we have to beat Pittsburgh," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey.

And that's a tall enough order for anyone to digest.

The Steelers bring a 13-game unbeaten streak to Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the Bills caught a huge break last weekend when Pittsburgh was able to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That rendered this game in Buffalo substantially meaningless, from a practical standpoint, for the Steelers, though you can suggest that to Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher at your peril.

"We are playing too well to go up there and not win that football game," Cowher said. "It's not so much the record as much as it is that we keep playing well.

"This is how you play the game. Those are not things you turn on and off. If you think you can turn it on and off, then you are going to be mistaken."

Having said that, don't expect to see starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or running back Jerome Bettis in the lineup. But the meat and potatoes of the best team in the AFC will all play.

"I think the worst thing you can do for your team is to go into any football game and diminish the importance of it," said Cowher, whose team will play its first playoff game on Jan. 15 or 16.

"Certainly, you can keep the big picture in mind but we are preparing the way we always do: To go out and win the game."

Riding a six-game win streak of their own, the Bills' comeback from oblivion has happened as a result of the happy confluence of improved play and flat-out good luck.

The offence that was so pathetic early in the year has turned into a steamroller, with Willis McGahee running strongly behind an improved offensive line. The ground game has allowed quarterback Drew Bledsoe to climb off the scrap heap and start throwing touchdown passes again.

Meanwhile, during these past six games in which the Bills have outscored their opponents 228-89, they have played two teams who had their coach quit; three games against teams that will finish 1-2-3 in the draft; and four games against teams minus their starting quarterback.

The Steelers will obviously be their toughest opponent in a while, but if Buffalo can't beat them under these circumstances they probably don't deserve to be in the playoffs anyway.

REMEMBER THE TITANS?

If they do make it, it will be their first trip to the playoffs since 1999 when they were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion by a last-second touchdown (was or wasn't it a lateral?) by the Tennessee Titans.

In essence, Sunday's matchup is a playoff game.

The Bills and their fans should savour it because they know from harsh historical fact that you never know when another game of this magnitude will come along.


Videos

Photos