ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Le’Veon Bell had no issues with traction in establishing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rushing record on a slick, snow-covered field.
Whether it was rushing to his left, right or up the middle, the Steelers running back scored three times and gained 236 yards rushing in a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
For Bell, the wintry conditions were nothing more than what it was like growing up in suburban Columbus, Ohio.
“It was never a thing that bothered me, being cold or if there’s snow. It never fazed me,” Bell said, noting that goes for the cold-weather Steelers, too. “Our guys embrace playing in the snow.”
The Steelers (8-5) overcame three interceptions thrown by Ben Roethlisberger to win their fourth straight and improve to 8-5 and keep pace in the AFC playoff race.
It’s the Bills (6-7) who were unable to get a hand on Bell in having their playoff chances all but mathematically slip away. Buffalo is in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 years — the longest since New Orleans ended a 20-year drought by reaching the postseason for their first time in 1987.
“It’s very hard to swallow,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “I don’t know how to take this right now. But it’s going to take some time.”
After scoring in the first half on 3- and 7-yard runs, Bell put the game away on the opening drive of the third quarter. He had nine rushes for 72 yards alone and capped the 82-yard drive by waltzing into the end zone from 5 yards to put the Steelers ahead 21-7.
Bell also had 62 yards receiving to account for 298 of the 460 yards gained by Pittsburgh. It was the second three-TD game of his career, and first in which he scored three times rushing.
Bell broke the franchise rushing record set by Willie Parker, who had 223 yards against Cleveland on Dec. 7, 2006.
“You set a franchise record in a snow game in December,” guard David DeCastro said. “I mean, come on. Of course it was fun.”
The mood was entirely different for the Bills.
The loss raised questions about coach Rex Ryan’s job security and quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s future .
Ryan was defiant when asked about whether he deserved a shot to continue on the job beyond his second season.
“What do you think I’m going to say? You’re dang right I do,” Ryan said. “It hasn’t gone exactly the way I wanted it to go, that’s obvious. But we have three games left and we’ll try to win every one of them.”
Ryan, however, was noncommittal in saying, “we’ll see,” when asked whether Taylor will remain his starter.
Taylor oversaw an offense that sputtered through much of three quarters.
The Bills combined for seven first downs and 87 yards net offense on their first nine possessions. That included Sammy Watkins’ 8-yard touchdown catch set up by Stephon Gilmore returning Roethlisberger’s second interception to the Pittsburgh 7 midway through the second quarter.
Down 24-7, the Bills scored twice in the final 7:27 on Charles Clay’s 40-yard catch and LeSean McCoy’s 3-yard run with 1:25 left.
Taylor finished 15 of 25 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Ryan’s prized defense continued to struggle a week after Buffalo squandered a 24-9 third-quarter lead in a 38-24 loss at Oakland. Buffalo has now surrendered more than 200 yards rushing twice this season, including 256 in a 28-25 loss at Miami on Oct. 23, when Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi had 214 of those yards.
Bad Ben: Roethlisberger finished 17 of 31 for 220 yards in continuing his struggles on the road. He has a 4-3 record away from Pittsburgh this season, when he’s thrown eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Roethlisberger’s numbers are far better at home, where he’s 4-1 and thrown 17 TDs versus three interceptions.
Buffalo linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown, on a pass intended for tight end Jesse James in the end zone, also had interceptions.
Minus yards: The Bills had minus-1 yards through two series in the first quarter, becoming the NFL’s first team this season to have negative yards through the first 15 minutes. Buffalo didn’t get into positive yardage until its first snap of the second quarter, when McCoy had a 9-yard run.
Snow removal: The start of the second half was delayed for nearly 10 minutes because of a buildup of rubber pellets that accumulated along the sidelines. The piles of pellets, which are part of the artificial turf, gathered up when tractors swept the field of a dusting of snow during halftime. Workers were required to use blowers and shovels to push the pellets further off the field.
Steelers: At Cincinnati on Dec. 18
Bills: Host Cleveland on Dec. 18.