Madden Monday on Steelers win in Buffalo: 'The better defense won. The offense was a passenger'

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TribLIVE 13 September, 2021 - 05:02am 31 views

Why did Zack Moss not play?

Moss will be inactive for Sunday's opener against the Steelers, ... Moss did have offseason ankle surgery, but he was well up to speed early in training camp and played in the preseason. CBSSports.comBills' Zack Moss: Surprise inactive

It was tale of two halves in Buffalo. After doing virtually nothing in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense put together four consecutive scoring drives in the second half. Pittsburgh also tacked on a special teams score while turning a 10-0 halftime deficit into a 23-16 upset victory. 

The game started fast, with Isaiah McKenzie returning the opening kickoff 75 yards to set up Tyler Bass' 37-yard field goal. But both teams would struggle on offense for the remainder of the half before Bills quarterback Josh Allen was able to lead a 13-play, 91-yard drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis on Buffalo's final drive before intermission. Buffalo had nearly twice as many yards on that drive as the Steelers had during the entire half. 

Pittsburgh countered with four consecutive scores to take a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead. The Steelers started the half with two 10-play drives that ended with short Chris Boswell field goals. Their third drive of the half ended with Roethlisberger's 5-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson, who made an impressive grab over Levi Wallace. Najee Harris' best run of the day, an 18-yard burst through the left side of Buffalo's defense, set up Johnson's touchdown. The Steelers' lead swelled to 10 points after Ulysees Gilbert III returned Miles Killebrew's blocked punt 9 yards for a score. 

Devin Singletary's runs of 15 and 25 yards set up Bass' second field goal with 5:26 left. The Steelers responded to Boswell's third field goal with one of their own, which was set up by Roethlisberger's 14-yard completion to Chase Claypool on a third-and-8 play. The Bills responded with yet another field goal, but JuJu Smith-Schuster's onside kick recovery sealed the Steelers' first win of 2021. 

Here's a breakdown of what transpired Sunday in Buffalo. 

The Steelers played complementary football. Pittsburgh's defense managed to keep the Steelers in the game despite the offense's early struggles. T.J. Watt's sack/forced fumble of Allen in the first half was part of Pittsburgh's dominant defensive performance. While Buffalo gained 371 total yards, the Steelers allowed just 254 passing yards from Allen, who averaged 284 passing yards per game in 2020. 

After just 54 yards in the first half, Pittsburgh's offense found its footing in the second half. Similar to 2020, Roethlisberger went back to his short, quick passing that is predicated on spreading the ball around. Eight different Steelers caught passes, with Johnson, Smith-Schuster, and Claypool catching a combined 12 passes for 133 yards. Pittsburgh also received a steady performance from Harris, who had 17 touches in his regular-season debut. 

The Steelers special teams made a bevy of solid plays following their hiccup on the opening kickoff. Gilbert's score was the big play, but rookie punter Pressley Harvin III had a 51-yard punt and two other punts that landed inside the 20-yard line. Boswell made each of his five kicks that included his game-clinching, 48-yard field goal.

The Bills were just 1 of 4 in the red zone. They also committed several costly penalties that included several holding calls in the first half. Wallace committed several penalties in the second half that contributed to Steelers scores. And while they were exceptional in the first half, the Bills defense was unable to force a turnover. 

The Bills offense (minus running back Zack Moss on Sunday) did not try to establish its running game until falling behind by double digits. Buffalo's offense also came up short on two critical fourth-down attempts during Pittsburgh's second-half scoring spree. Allen made several plays with his feet, but he was under considerable pressure throughout the game. He was sacked twice by Watt and a third time by Cameron Heyward. 

Ahead 10-6, the Bills decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers' 41-yard line with 13:36 left. Instead of a long field goal attempt or a punt that would have pinned the Steelers deep inside their own territory, the Bills called an outside run play for running back Matt Breida that was stuffed by cornerback Cam Sutton for a 7-yard loss. The Steelers took their first lead five plays later. 

We'll put the spotlight on the Steelers' special teams, specifically on Killebrew and Gilbert for their play on Pittsburgh's blocked punt. It was Pittsburgh's first special teams score since Johnson's 85-yard return for a touchdown in the Steelers' 2019 win over the Cardinals in Week 14. 

Honorable mention goes to Claypool's leaping grab over Tre'Davious White that set up the Steelers' first score. 

"It was just something that we anticipated. They've gotten in that structure a bunch; four, five times in the preseason they just [ran] the dive to the fullback. We figured that that would be the next phase of [that play], to fake that dive to the fullback and flip that ball out there to [the running back].

"We talked about it, but you can't take anything away from Cam Sutton. Just a really aware play and big-time football play." -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on his defense's key fourth-down stop while Pittsburgh trailing 10-6 in the fourth quarter 

Buffalo will begin the AFC East portion of its schedule with a road game in Miami. The Dolphins kicked off the regular season with a home game against the Patriots. Pittsburgh will make its home debut against the Raiders, who have won five of the last seven matchups against the two rivals from the '70s. The Raiders will open their season with a home game against the Ravens on Monday night. 

1-0 SteelerNation!!! Let’s get it! pic.twitter.com/ulFgu2Rrpa

TEAM. TEAM. great win in all phases.. can’t wait to experience my first home game with STEELER NATION NEXT WEEK! 1-0

QB Josh Allen: Obviously, that’s not how we wanted to started the season. We aren’t going to panic, there are still 16 games left. #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/5cqUfw3b8z

We're live for Bills Tonight to hear from HC Sean McDermott, QB Josh Allen and more after our loss to the Steelers.@ECMCBuffalo | #PITvsBUF https://t.co/LUrN6J7oSp

Bros. pic.twitter.com/tX3Oz6XVEJ

Thanks for following along with our live blog today! An interesting game in Buffalo, as the Steelers pull off the upset after a rocky first half. We'll have a full breakdown on today's game shortly. 

Back to work next week. #PITvsBUF | #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/YHdySObvcd

Week 1️⃣ WIN 😤@UnibetUS | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/M2n8CfVxtY

Bass' kick is good from 42.@SenecaCasinos | #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/ELpXbCTjxZ

SACKED 😤 pic.twitter.com/KC7G7zFDKR

Bills fans leaving in droves despite still being in position to win. 

Clutch 14-yard third down completion from Roethlisberger to Claypool. Steelers at this point are in field goal range. 

The Bills aren't going to play around anymore. Josh Allen quickly hits Stefon Diggs for 12 yards before Singletary rips off runs of 15 and 25 yards. 

MOTOR❗️ pic.twitter.com/P7lKLhFrtc

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Steelers vs. Bills - Game Recap - September 12, 2021

ESPN 13 September, 2021 - 08:00am

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- — Knowing it was going to take the Steelers' new-look offense time to find its footing, Ben Roethlisberger was counting on Pittsburgh’s defense to keep the score close.

T.J. Watt and company delivered, with Pittsburgh getting the added bonus from its special teams in rallying from a 10-0 deficit to pull out a 23-16 season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

“We anticipate that a little bit, right? The bumps in the road the offense is going to have, the newness,” Roethlisberger said of an offense featuring a new coordinator, a retooled line and rookie running back Najee Harris. “We expect our defense to have to carry us. I told them that afterward, we appreciated their efforts, appreciated what they do, not losing faith in us.”

Watt had two sacks and a forced fumble in his first game after signing a four-year, $112 million contract extension that made him the NFL’s top-paid defensive player. And the defense kept the Bills’ dynamic Josh Allen-led passing attack in check by stopping Buffalo on fourth down on each of its first two possessions of the second half.

“I don’t want to say a dominant performance because obviously there’s still a lot left on the table,” Watt said. “But I’m very happy with where we are, especially Week 1.”

After managing three first downs and 53 yards through two quarters, Roethlisberger got to work in the second half by leading the Steelers to a score on each of their first four possessions.

In cutting Buffalo’s lead to 10-6 on a pair of Chris Boswell field goals, the Steelers went ahead on Roethlisberger’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson in the left corner of the end zone. The pass initially went off Johnson’s fingertips, but the receiver was able to secure the ball before tumbling out of bounds 3:41 into the fourth quarter.

The Steelers then extended their lead to 20-10 some 90 seconds later with Miles Killebrew bursting up the middle to block Matt Haack’s punt, and Ulysees Gilbert scooping up the loose ball at the Buffalo 9 and running it in untouched.

"I’m proud of the guys because they didn’t blink,” Roethlisberger said. “They they stood up in the face of not playing well early.”

What was supposed to be Buffalo’s coming out party following a breakthrough season in which the Bills won their first AFC East title since 1995 and made their first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years turned into a dud for a team pegged by many this offseason as a Super Bowl contender.

The NFL’s second-highest scoring offense last year managed just one touchdown — Allen’s 3-yard pass to Gabriel Davis — and settled for three field goals despite crossing midfield on eight of its 11 possessions.

“Obviously, it’s not what we hope for, what we strive for, how we want to start the season,” said Allen, who finished 30 of 51 for 270 yards, was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

“Whether it be first-game nerves or jitters, or feeling stuff with my feet, but I’ve got to play better,” Allen added. “We’re not going to panic. It’s 16 games left.”

The momentum turned with Buffalo’s second failed fourth-down attempt. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Steelers 41, Allen turned around and threw an overhand pass to Matt Breida, who was immediately tackled for a 7-yard loss by cornerback Cameron Sutton.

Roethlisberger capped a five-play drive with the touchdown to Johnson. Gilbert scored when the Bills were forced to punt following a three-and-out in which James Pierre punched the ball out of the arms of Emmanuel Sanders to prevent a 20-yard catch on second down, and Watt followed by sacking Allen for a 6-yard loss.

Watt’s teammates were not surprised by the impact he made despite limited practice time.

“You just see how hungry he was to come out here and continue to showcase the things that he’s been putting on," Sutton said.

“Were you surprised? Me either,” Roethlisberger said, answering his own question when asked about Watt’s production. “I don’t think anybody else was. It just shows that the preseason is overrated right?”

In opening his 18th — and perhaps final — season, Roethlisberger posted his 36th career fourth-quarter comeback to tie Drew Brees for third on the NFL list. He finished 18 of 32 for 188 yards and a touchdown.

The Bills scored on their opening possession with Bass hitting a 37-yard field goal, which was set up by Isaiah McKenzie’s 75-yard kickoff return. Buffalo didn’t score again until its final possession of the half, in which Allen capped a 13-play, 91-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Davis.

Steelers: Coach Mike Tomlin revealed linebacker Robert Spillane was held out after he was hurt in pregame warmups.

Bills: Second-year running back Zack Moss was inactive after spending last season serving as Devin Singletary's primary backup.

Watt got his 18th career forced fumble, which is the most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2017. Watt also upped his sack total to 51 1/2.

Killebrew’s blocked punt was Pittsburgh’s first since Roosevelt Nix against Atlanta in 2018. Gilbert’s TD return off a blocked punt was Pittsburgh’s first since Bills current special teamer Tyler Matakevich scored against Cleveland in 2017.

Steelers: Home opener against Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 19.

Bills: At Miami Dolphins on Sept. 19.

Joe Starkey: That was a Mike Tomlin masterpiece

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 13 September, 2021 - 08:00am

Mike Tomlin has 146 regular season wins. Can you think of many that were more impressive — and more unlikely —- than beating the allegedly Super Bowl-bound Bills in Buffalo?

Go ahead. Give it a shot. You won’t be occupied for long.

Tomlin’s had some huge victories over the Ravens, obviously, and that short-handed win against the visiting Browns two years ago was something to behold. Duck Hodges played quarterback that day. The Steelers were missing all kinds of players, including JuJu Smith-Schuster. Let the record show that Tevin Jones was their second-leading receiver.

The Bills are a wildly popular Super Bowl pick (check the Post-Gazette’s NFL preview section for proof). Or at least they were. Most people are picking the Steelers to finish third in their own division (or at least they were).

Tomlin’s club entered with six rookie starters, the first time that happened for a season opener since 1981, according to Chris Hoke on the KDKA postgame show. Two of those rookies were charged with protecting 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Tomlin also had a new line coach, a new offensive coordinator, a key injury on defense (Stephon Tuitt) and a 10-point halftime deficit.

The contributors were many, from $112 million man T.J. Watt, to Chase Claypool, to Diontae Johnson (what a catch!), to second-half Roethlisberger, to Monster Melvin Ingram, to Minkah Fitzpatrick, to all men named Cam (Heyward, Sutton), to Miles Killebrew and Ulysees Gilbert III, who combined on a blocked punt that made the difference in the end.

But make no mistake: This was the head coach’s win.

• That’s his defense. Tomlin has commandeered the group over the past few years. He runs the defense. That means he deserves the bulk of the blame when it goes bad and the bulk of the credit when it goes good — or in this case, great. He had a brilliant plan to stifle Josh Allen. The Steelers embarrassed Buffalo’s offensive line and beat Allen to a pulp on their way to outscoring the Bills 23-6 in the second half.

“We just played Steeler D,” Tomlin said. “I’ve got an expectation that our defensive unit is going to be in every football game like that. I’m just being blatantly honest with you.”

• The Steelers did not panic. They seemed to feed off Tomlin’s ultra-confident, relaxed demeanor. He mentioned the Bills’ “stability” several times in his news conference Tuesday. The Steelers have some of that, too. Namely, the head coach. The Steelers did not fold after allowing a big game-opening kickoff return. They did not wilt despite gaining just 54 yards in the first half, including minus-2 in the second quarter.

• Tomlin gave his new offensive coordinator (Matt Canada) and quarterback the freedom to stay aggressive. Even with a late lead, Roethlisberger kept taking shots down the field. If the Steelers had turtled and kept running, they might have lost. They kept attacking. Claypool drew a huge interference call on the final field goal drive — because Roethlisberger threw deep on 3rd-and-7.

Now, suddenly, anything seems possible for this team. One afternoon. One great coaching job. You best believe the Steelers opened some eyes.

Other observations from the 23-16 win:

• For all the Steelers’ issues along the offensive line — and there are many — Buffalo’s line isn’t exactly the Seven Blocks of Granite. When tackles Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams weren’t holding, they were attempting to hold. One blatant example occurred on Allen’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. Williams literally reached out and grabbed Watt by the shoulder pad as Watt sped past him. That split second was the difference, as Watt crashed into Allen just after he released the ball.

Honestly, I’m not sure I remember a game with more blatant uncalled holding penalties. You can bet that line will be a huge talking point in Buffalo this week.

• Allen’s going to take enough hits without being turned into a running back. If I’m Sean McDermott, I’m telling my coordinator, Brian Daboll, to cool it with the designed quarterback runs up the middle. I don’t care if Allen weighs 240 pounds. He absorbed some massive shots. Those kinds of plays don’t really lend themselves to the quarterback sliding. The Bills are playing with fire. No need for it.

• Having said that, I’m running Allen all day if the choice on 4th-and-1 is a quarterback sneak or a 10-yard backward pass. What was that?

I’ll tell you what that was: one of the most ridiculous 4th-and-1 plays in NFL history. If Cam Sutton hadn’t made the play, four other Steelers were in position to do so

• Quote of the day: Who else but Tomlin: “We’re not in this for style points. We’re in it to win it.”

First Published September 12, 2021, 9:15pm

Bills season opening loss could sting for a long time

RochesterFirst 12 September, 2021 - 07:58pm

And they’re right. Every NFL team will have a bad game here or there. Even the great ones. Even ones that win Super Bowls. Feel free to re-visit how Tampa Tom began his run to last year’s title.

It’s also very possible this Steelers team might turn out to be pretty good. It’s probably safe to believe their defense is really good. There is no shame in this one loss as stunning and gut punching and hype train stopping is it may be.

This was kind of a screwy game. The Bills offense, that’s usually among the best at finishing, had four drives crossed midfield that netted a punt, a fumble and two fourth-down fails.

There was a punt block for a touchdown. Sure, that’s a play that still counts and football is three phases and you can stop quoting me NFL cliches. Those are points you just don’t count on and won’t see in almost every other game this year, so we’ll cut the Bills some slack in our long term analysis of this loss.

The fans weren’t nearly as loud and crazy as I expected. Don’t for one second take this as placing any sort of blame on Billsmafia, but I was jacked up to be at this game. I thought the fans would use it as a celebration of last year and just go bananas from 1pm on. I was wrong. Maybe all those punts in the first half took the edge off. Maybe everyone was exhausted from sitting in the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced in Orchard Park for a game (I heard multiple stories about the last two miles taking well over an hour). It was still loud, but it was run-of-the-mill loud.

And then, there were the two calls by the officials that I’m sure have Bills fans banging away at their Twitter machines. I thought both were very questionable. I’ll put both in the category of ‘I wish they weren’t called but I do understand what the ref is looking at to feel a flag is required’.

You can holster any complaining about officials, however. Screwy or not, this is a game where the Bills had no excuses. When you’re a Super Bowl f̶a̶v̶o̶r̶i̶t̶e̶ contender and you’re up 10… at home… at the half… you’ve got to finish the game.

Problem A-1 for the Bills going forward is the offensive line. When Sean McDermott was asked after the game but how successfully Pittsburgh got pressure by only rushing their front four, his first response was “Sometimes it was just three”. The chill in those words and the stare that followed made a Buffalo winter seem cozy. The only other thing he could really add was “Adjustments need to be made”.

I thought it was a bit hilarious that Bills fans talked themselves into believing T.J. Watt’s one quiet game against Buffalo last year was an indication that Buffalo and Daryl Williams owned him. As if Williams was Buffalo’s personal Incredible Hulk and not simply an above-average offensive tackle who received a good amount of help as part of a very smart game plan. The game plan this year was much less smart and Watt spent the afternoon proving he was way worth $112 million.

The good news for the Bills fans is that Watt will not be on the other side every week. Neither will the rest of this nasty and dangerous Steelers front four. But, the Bills will face other good pass rushing groups and some will be paired with an offense that has a lot more pop. If there’s anything that might derail this Super hopeful Buffalo season, it’s Josh Allen running for his life every week.

The damage to the Bills season from this loss might already be done. In the perceived race for the one-seed against the Chiefs, Buffalo is already one game behind. The Bills can, of course, make up any deficit by beating the Chiefs in Arrowhead in four weeks.

Let’s say Buffalo can’t win that game in Kansas City (most teams don’t). That would leave the Bills trying to make up three games on the Chiefs over the other 15 games on the schedule. How many of those games do you think the Chiefs will lose? Is it even three?

That’s why this game mattered so much. That’s why every game will matter so much for the Bills this year. They believe they need the one-seed and homefield in the AFC title game to make the Super Bowl. This loss against the Steelers might have erased a big chunk of Buffalo’s margin for error to earn that one seed.

No one can win a Super Bowl after just one game, but it’s very possible we may look back and see just one game as a big reason why the Bills lost a chance reach the Super Bowl.

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