ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Even though the Steelers outscored the Bills 23-6 in the second half of Sunday’s season opener, the only reason it was even close for as long as it was was because of Buffalo’s defense.
While the Bills’ offense couldn’t get in a groove during this game, the defense kept them in it, shutting out Pittsburgh in the first half as Buffalo took a 10-0 lead at halftime.
But Ben Roethlisberger started to get things going for the Steelers offense in the second half and that’s where this game turned.
“Once they got the momentum we couldn’t stop. They had a blocked punt for a touchdown, the momentum kept rolling, they were moving the ball a little bit better on offense that they weren’t able to do in the first half. They made some adjustments and we were not able to execute right and I think penalties hurt us too and from there we just couldn’t stop their momentum,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said after the game.
Twice the Bills offense couldn’t convert on fourth down and the Steelers capitalized both times. The first time Pittsburgh kicked their second field goal making it a 10-6 game. The second time, the Steelers made the Bills pay by scoring a touchdown and on that drive, a very costly pass interference call on Levi Wallace on 3rd and 7. That took Pittsburgh from the Bills’ 49-yard line to the 23.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Diontae Johnson in the back left corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown over the head of Wallace. At first it looked like Johnson wasn’t going to be able to come down with it as he bobbled the pass but then secured it for the score.
“Today their defense played better than our defense. That’s how I see it. Our defense didn’t create enough turnovers. Their defense took the ball away twice with a special teams touchdown. We gotta be better on our side of the football and figure out ways to get our offense in better position to score points,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer said.
And even though the Bills defense wasn’t responsible for the blocked punt that resulted in a Pittsburgh touchdown, they players kept coming back to the fact that they didn’t do enough to help their offense.
“We didn’t find one way to take the ball away and to me I think that was the difference in the game right there. And it’s just something that we have to continue to harp, continue to do in practice throughout the week. Our offense is skilled, we gotta find ways to get them the football back and in scoring positions and it’s just something that we didn’t do today,” Poyer explained.
Poyer and Mario Addison recorded sacks on Roethlisberger. This offseason the Bills put a huge emphasis on improving their pass rush and building the depth on their defensive line and we saw that in this game as they were able to constantly rotate guys and have different combinations at both defensive end and defensive tackle each series.
While there are no “moral victories” it is worth pointing out how well defensive back Taron Johnson and Ed Oliver played in this one. To me, they really stood out as Johnson was all over the place and led the team in tackles with seven. One play that sticks out is the big pass breakup he had of Eric Ebron in the third quarter. That helped force the Steelers to settle for a field goal when they made it a 10-6 game.
Oliver also had a very strong game including a big on Najee Harris to start the second quarter for a loss of four.
And while expectations for the Bills are sky high this season after what they were able to do in 2020 and the pieces they added this offseason, players view this as a temporary set back.
“We understand we’re a good football team and we understand we’re a better football team than what we showed today. The best thing that we can do is learn from our mistakes today and continue to grow as a football team. We got a lot of football left in the season, you know this is week one,” Poyer said.
“It’s a challenge each and every week and that’s what we get paid to do is win or loss be back in the lab the next day and get your body right, get your mind right and start the film, prep for the next team and go from there,” Hyde explained.