PITTSBURGH — Tyler Kroft’s first big play for the Buffalo Bills was a long time coming but came at a great time.
Kroft’s 14-yard touchdown catch — his first as a Bill — was the winning score in Buffalo’s 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Kroft, who missed most of last season with a broken foot, was signed in March to be the Bills’ No. 1 tight end. He broke his foot again on the first day of spring practice, which caused him to miss all of training camp and the first five games of the regular season.
Kroft, 27, only had four catches and played only 20% of the snaps in the eight games before Sunday night.
“It was awesome. I’m not going to lie,” Kroft said. “It’s been a marathon this year, getting hurt, ending my season last year and then getting hurt in OTA and working my way back. We preach having a mentally strong team here. I think we do. It was awesome.”
“I was super happy for him,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “The battles he’s had, not just with injury but mental psyche that comes with injuries in football. How he’s played through it and how he’s found a way and just continued to be in his role and be OK with being a team guy speaks volumes for the character he has.”
The @BuffaloBills take the lead on the TD pass to Tyler Kroft!
7:55 remaining. #GoBills
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2019
Here’s a breakdown of the key plays in the Bills’ win, starting with Kroft’s TD catch.
1. On the same page.
The Bills faced a third-and-9 play from the Steelers’ 18 with 8 minutes left. Three wide receivers lined up to the left, and Kroft was on the other side, next to the right tackle.
“I have an option to run either a post or a corner on that, depending on what they’re doing,” Kroft said. “I had a corner route and I saw I was going to be open.”
The Steelers were in Cover 2, with safety Terrell Edmunds to Kroft’s side, which meant Kroft was running the corner route to the outside. Devin Singletary came out of the backfield and ran an underneath route.
Allen did a good job looking toward the three receivers on the left before firing to Kroft.
“We were on the same page,” Kroft said. “I saw the coverage and I knew I had to get my head around fast. He saw it and he threw a strike. That was just perfect. It made my job easy.”
“Josh read the right side, saw the defense the right way,” said backup quarterback Matt Barkley. “It’s a play we’ve had forever. He put it right on him. He did a great job of really reading everything tonight.”
It was Kroft’s ninth career TD.
His last TD performance also was in a game that clinched the playoffs for the Bills. Kroft had two TD catches in Cincinnati’s win over Baltimore in the 2017 regular-season finale.
2. Big-play Brown.
Kroft’s TD was set up by a 40-yard pass from Allen to John Brown down the left sideline. While the pass was a bit underthrown, Allen gave his receiver a chance to make a play. Too many of Allen’s deep throws have been overthrown this season. Brown outjumped cornerback Steven Nelson for the ball to put the Bills at the Pittsburgh 30.
“It was a straight go route,” Brown said. “Me and Josh were talking about it on the sideline. Josh just made a great throw. Especially when you got a quarterback that believes in a 5-9 receiver to get up for a jump ball, I knew I had a chance to make it and I wanted to make him right.”
For the record, Brown is listed at 5-foot-11.
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2019
He made the catch despite the fact Nelson pulled on his arm and was flagged for pass interference.
“I felt a little pressure and I just tried to get it up to him,” Allen said. “I saw him have a step, and I just tried to get it out in front of him. I probably could have done a better job of throwing it way out there. But he made an and-1 with the flag. You love to see guys like that make that type of play.”
3. The BSU play.
That’s what defensive end Trent Murphy called his key forced fumble late in the second quarter that stopped the Steelers from taking a halftime lead.
Allen had thrown an interception that the Steelers returned to the Bills’ 20. But two plays later, Murphy blew into the backfield and forced a fumble to give the Bills the ball back.
The snap from center to running back James Conner in the wildcat formation was low. Conner picked it up and handed to receiver Dionte Johnson, lined up as a running back. But Murphy hit Johnson’s arm just after he took the handoff.
“It was kind of a default, what we call BSU -- blow [stuff] up,” Murphy said. “They were in wildcat. They were trying to hand off to the receiver in the backfield, kind of an unconventional play. I just basically tried to attack the mesh point. The tackle blocked down and the guard pulled. I’m supposed hammer the guard and set it up back to everybody else. They kind of fumbled the snap. They weren’t used to doing it, and I got a hand in there while he was trying to secure the football.”
Jordan Poyer recovered at the Buffalo 9 with 1:53 left in the half.
4. Sprint draw.
Singletary burst off left guard on a sprint draw for a 14-yard gain to set up the Bills’ first TD.
The Bills’ exploited the desire of the Steelers’ edge rushers to get after the quarterback. It was a first-down play, and Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree came flying off the left edge. Tackle Dion Dawkins gave him a shove into the backfield and blocked downfield. Center Mitch Morse blocked linebacker Mark Barron at the point of attack. Singletary made a wicked lateral cut at the 11 to leave Nelson grasping at air. He was tackled at the 1.
5. Allen scores again.
The Bills’ QB scored his ninth rushing TD of the season on the next play, running off left tackle -- with Singletary as a lead blocker. But Singletary didn’t need to touch anyone. Dawkins walled off Dupree. Morse pulled to the left and cleared an alley for the QB.
“Obviously quarterback runs, you get another blocker up there,” Allen said. “The guys up front did the right things and I was able to follow them and get in untouched. That was one of the better feeling touchdowns I’ve ever had.”
The nine rushing touchdowns by a quarterback are a Bills' franchise record. Allen also had a touchdown either rushing or passing in 20 consecutive games to tie Doug Flutie's team record.