Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers was delayed nearly 10 minutes after halftime for a rarely seen reason.
Two John Deere tractors cleared the snow off the playing surface at New Era Field, but at the same time removed a massive amount of the rubber pellets that make up the A-Turf Titan field turf.
“The brush on one of the tractors used for snow removal on the field was too firm which caused a build-up of the rubber pellets on the sidelines,” the Bills said in a team statement. “Our field crew worked in conjunction with NFL officials to clear the sidelines to their specifications, which caused a brief delay in the start of the second half.”
Before the game could resume, members of the field crew shoveled the pellets – which were along the Bills’ sideline and behind both end zones – into tractors to be hauled away.
“As far as the field, the pellets being taken out didn’t change any footing or anything,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.
Sunday’s 27-20 loss did not eliminate the Bills from playoff contention, but a math degree from MIT might be required to sort out their postseason odds.
Despite that, receiver Sammy Watkins said he will continue to play through a foot injury. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn revealed last week that Watkins has a broken bone in his left foot.
“I’m going to play, there’s no doubt in that,” Watkins said after finishing with four catches for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season. “I’m a competitor. I love to go out there and play with the team. I’m going to be out there on the field.”
The Bills brought Watkins back off injured reserve three games ago with the hope that he could provide the boost they needed to make a playoff push. In that time, he’s made 10 catches for 172 yards.
“I’m very upset that we didn’t make the playoffs, but those are things we have to get over,” Watkins said. “Until we learn from it, we won’t be in the playoffs. We gotta be a smarter team, a well-coached team, and we have to be prepared every week, week in and week out, no matter.”
Watkins scored on an 8-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor in the second quarter. The Bills are staring at the very real possibility of a quarterback change over the final three weeks of the season.
“When they go evaluate what happened today, I don't know what call it's going to be, but I'm going to be prepared whether it's Ty or EJ [Manuel],” Watkins said. “It doesn't matter.”
The Bills started rookie Shaq Lawson and veteran Lorenzo Alexander at outside linebacker, meaning Jerry Hughes was on the sidelines.
After the game, coach Rex Ryan said “we were rotating all three of those guys, and that’s probably just the way it was. I would think if you go back and look, he played just as much as anybody.”
Hughes said he played “an awful lot,” and that Ryan wanted to “keep us all fresh.”
“I feel like they did a fantastic job keeping everybody fresh given the circumstances,” he said.
Hughes finished with five tackles. He has one sack in the last nine weeks.
Former Bills cornerback Ross Cockrell has started every game this season for the Steelers. He finished with four tackles Sunday. Ex-Buffalo linebacker Arthur Moats has appeared in all 13 games this season for the Steelers, with five starts. He did not register any statistics Sunday.
Receiver Robert Woods was active after missing the last two games because of a knee injury. He was targeted three times and finished with one catch for 29 yards. Tight end Charles Clay also returned to the lineup after missing the Week 13 game in Oakland for the birth of his first child. Clay had three catches for 52 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams missed his first game of the season. Ryan said Williams’ back “locked up” on him Thursday night. He missed practice Friday. Also inactive for the Bills were linebacker Lerentee McCray (concussion), receiver Dez Lewis, running back Jonathan Williams, tight end Logan Thomas, tight end Gerald Christian and quarterback Cardale Jones.
The Bills’ captains Sunday were Watkins, Lawson, center Patrick Lewis, safety James Ihedigbo, linebacker Bryson Albright and running back LeSean McCoy.
Albright played in his first NFL game after being promoted from the practice squad Saturday.