PITTSBURGH (AP) — Bills safety Damar Hamlin received a warm ovation and exchanged hugs with several Steelers — including quarterback Kenny Pickett, a college teammate of Hamlin’s at Pitt — during the opening coin toss.
“It was super special,” Hamlin said of being asked to go out for the coin toss, a surprise coach Sean McDermott laid on him at the last minute. “Made me feel like a big kid.”
The good vibes of Hamlin’s return aside, the Bills showed there’s still plenty to work on before visiting the New York Jets on Sept. 11. Josh Allen completed 7 of 10 passes in what could be his lone preseason appearance but failed to lead Buffalo to any points during his three series.
The Bills did reach Pittsburgh territory on its second drive before penalties on three consecutive snaps pushed them out of scoring position, symbolic of a night when they were flagged 13 times and didn’t score until players who may not stick around when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Aug. 29.
McDermott called the penalties “unacceptable,” particularly since they were a point of emphasis after the Bills were penalized eight times in their preseason-opening win over Indianapolis.
Stefon Diggs caught two of the five passes sent his way for 22 yards. Rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid continued his impressive summer by hauling in three passes for 45 yards, one of the few bright spots for Buffalo.
Backup quarterback Matt Barkley threw three interceptions, including a lob that Pittsburgh second-round pick, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., hauled in to set up a touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Connor Heyward in the waning seconds of the first half to extend the lead to 21-0.
“It’s clear we’re not where we need to be right now,” McDermott said.
The Steelers, by comparison, look ready for their Sept. 10 opener against San Francisco. Pickett has played three series so far in the preseason. Each series has ended with Pittsburgh reaching the end zone, with all three touchdowns coming from at least 25 yards out.
“I like that we’re getting in some ‘splash,’” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, though he cautioned it’s been in a limited sample size.
Maybe, though for a team that finished 26th in points scored in 2022 and often needed extended drives to find the end zone, the early returns of what may be possible in 2023 are promising.
“We want to be a team capable of big plays,” Warren said. “It’s something we’ve been working toward all camp and to see it on the field, it shows we’re heading in the right direction.”