ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ stunning 23-16 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Highmark Stadium:
1. It wasn’t exactly the offense we were expecting, was it?
Let’s start with Josh Allen. Other than a pretty touchdown throw to Gabe Davis in the back of the end zone, he was far from sharp. He had three overthrows and several other misfires, including one that nearly resulted in an interception. It wasn’t exactly the sort of performance to validate the $258 million contract extension he received in the offseason.
It certainly fell well short of his making the case to be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, as many of us have projected.
“Whether it be first-game nerves or jitters or feeling something in my feet, I’ve got to play better,” Allen said. “We’re not going to panic. We’ve got 16 games left.”
Some of Allen’s issues were his own fault. Quite a few stemmed from a strong defensive showing by the Steelers’ defense, which mostly did a good job in pass coverage. On more than a few occasions, Allen was forced to hold the ball in the pocket because he couldn’t find anyone open.
Pittsburgh’s defensive front also got the better of the Bills’ offensive line, which was called for six holding penalties. Three were on the unit’s top player, tackle Dion Dawkins, but one was declined. The other holding calls were on center Mitch Morse, guard Jon Feliciano and tackle Daryl Williams.
2. Allen ran far too often.
Keith Butler, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, told reporters during the week that he welcomed the idea of the Bills’ quarterback acting as a running back as often as possible. That way, the Steelers’ hard-hitting defense could treat him accordingly.
Butler got his wish. Allen had nine rushes, second-most on the team, for 44 yards. He fumbled on one of his carries, but was able to recover.
3. T.J. Watt is the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player for a reason.
Sean McDermott thought he needed to point out in his news conference Friday that Watt makes more money than any of the league’s other players on his side of the ball. It was strange to hear McDermott make such a reference, considering he generally doesn’t publicly involve himself in matters of finance with his own players, let alone those from the opponent. Perhaps he was making sure his offense had a satisfactory target on Watt, against whom the Bills did a good job in last season’s victory against Pittsburgh.
Watt made himself noticed, first sacking Allen from behind and forcing a fumble that Cam Heyward recovered. The Steelers, though, failed to cash it in for points.
4. Brian Daboll clearly out-thought himself with his call on fourth-and-one early in the fourth quarter.
He had Allen pitch the ball back to Matt Breida, who was promptly tackled for a 7-yard loss.
That set up an incredible TD catch by Diontae Johnson of a five-yard throw from Ben Roethlisberger. Johnson, facing his quarterback, went up for the catch, bobbled the ball, got his right foot down as he made the catch and dragged his left foot in the end zone.
For the record, Johnson led the NFL in drops last season.
Also for the record, Roethlisberger was more good than great. He didn’t need to be great. He needed to be good enough to manage the game and complement the Steelers’ solid defense.
5. When Miles Killebrew blocked a Matt Haack punt that Ulysees Gilbert III recovered and returned nine yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter, I thought back to a training camp practice when Steve Tasker was watching Haack punt.
Tasker, of course, is a foremost authority on all things special teams. He mentioned to me that Haack was a three-step punter (making him a step slower than on a two-step approach), which Tasker said could make Haack vulnerable to having a punt blocked.