It was not the 2021 season opener many had anticipated from the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
After leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 10-0 after halftime, the Bills squandered the lead in the fourth quarter and ended up dropping a 23-16 decision at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
Isaiah McKenzie got the fans going right on the opening kickoff, as he returned the football 75 yards from the Bills' one-yard line to the Steelers' 24-yard line.
Unfortunately for the Bills, the opening offensive series was a short one, as quarterback Josh Allen only advanced his unit five more yards to the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. However, the opening drive did result in a 37-yard field goal from kicker Tyler Bass to give Buffalo an early 3-0 lead.
After the Bills defense forced a punt of the Steelers on their first opening drive, the Buffalo offense ran into some penalty trouble on their next drive. The Bills were able to drive the ball 33 yards down the field on 10 plays, but were flagged three times for holding and ended up punting.
With 8:38 to go in the second quarter and the score still 3-0 in favor of Buffalo, the Bills were looking to pick up a first down on a 3rd-and-13 play at the Steelers' 38-yard line. However, as Allen rolled out of the pocket to his left, he was sacked and stripped of the football by Pittsburgh pass rusher T.J. Watt. The ball bounced around for a bit before being recovered by Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward.
Luckily, the Buffalo defense came up clutch again, forcing another Pittsburgh punt after a four-play drive. This stand included a 10-yard sack of quarterback Ben Roethelisberger by safety Jordan Poyer.
On the very next offensive drive for Buffalo, Allen drove the ball down the field and into Pittsburgh territory with time running down in the first half. It was the 13th play of a 91-yard drive when the fourth-year quarterback fired a three-yard touchdown to the back of the end zone to wide receiver Gabriel Davis.
With just 22 seconds remaining in the half, the Steelers elected to kneel down and run out the clock heading into halftime.
Pittsburgh received the opening kickoff of the second half and took their first drive down the field and deep into Buffalo territory. However, the Steelers failed to find the end zone, advancing as far as the Bills' six-yard line, and ended the drive with a 24-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell.
Buffalo's first offensive drive of the third quarter saw the team advancing into Pittsburgh territory, but instead of settling for a long field goal attempt by Bass, the Bills attempted to go for it on a 4th-and-8 play. At the Steelers' 35-yard line, Allen fired a pass down the field intended for Davis, but his pass was knocked away.
With a chance to tie the game at 10-10 on their very next drive, Pittsburgh failed to come through. The Steelers advanced as far as the Buffalo two-yard line, but once again failed to punch the football into the end zone. Boswell cut the Bills' lead to 10-6 with 1:47 to go in the quarter thanks to a 20-yard chip shot field goal.
With the Bills facing another fourth down situation early in the fourth quarter at the Steelers' 41-yard line, Buffalo elected to go for it again and fail to keep a drive alive. This time, the Bills attempted something different with Allen firing the ball back to running back Matt Breida, but the Steelers were ready and brought down Breida for a loss of seven.
The Steelers made the Bills pay for their mistake on the next drive, resulting in their first lead of the game.
With the help of a third down pass interference penalty called against Bills cornerback Levi Wallace, the Steelers got into the Buffalo red zone to set up a five-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who made a great catch before falling out of bounds.
The Bills failed to respond on their next drive, as Allen ended up getting sacked by Heyward on a third down play at Buffalo's 29-yard line that resulted in a three-and-out.
On the ensuing punt, disaster struck for the Bills.
Pittsburgh managed to break through and block the punt attempt from Bills' punter Matt Haack. The ball ended up being picked up by linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III, who ran it back nine yards for the Steelers touchdown. That made the score 20-10 in favor of the Steelers with 9:45 remaining in regulation.
Buffalo responded a little more than four minutes with three more points on the board to close the deficit to seven. With some help from running back Devin Singletary, Buffalo got as far as the Steelers' six-yard line before having to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Bass with 5:23 to go.
However, Pittsburgh extended its lead back to 10 on the next drive thanks to a 45-yard field goal from Boswell with just 2:47 to go in the game.
With needing a touchdown and a field goal in the final moments of the game, the Bills elected to kick a 42-yard field goal with 49 seconds remaining to close the gap again to seven points.
On the ensuing onside kick, Bass' kick made it 13 yards before Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster jumped on the football to close out Pittsburgh's first win of the season.
As for Buffalo, Sunday's loss marks the team's first loss in the regular season since Week 10 of the 2020 season to the Arizona Cardinals.
- 3-0 BUFFALO: Bills field goal (13:34) - Tyler Bass' 37-yard field goal attempt is good.
Drive info: 4 plays, 5 yards, 1:30
- 10-0 BUFFALO: Bills touchdown (0:22) - Josh Allen fires a three-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. (Tyler Bass' extra point attempt was good)
Drive info: 13 plays, 91 yards, 5:39
- 10-3 BUFFALO: Steelers field goal (10:26) - Chris Boswell's 24-yard field goal attempt it good.
Drive info: 10 plays, 69 yards, 4:37
- 10-6 BUFFALO: Steelers field goal (1:47) - Chris Boswell's 20-yard field goal attempt is good.
Drive info: 11 plays, 62 yards, 4:01
- 13-10 PITTSBURGH: Steelers touchdown (11:19) - Ben Roethlisberger connects on a five-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. (Chris Boswell's extra point attempt is good)
Drive info: 4 plays, 52 yards, 2:23
- 20-10 PITTSBURGH: Steelers touchdown (9:45) - Steelers block a Matt Haack punt and return the football nine yards for a touchdown. (Chris Boswell's extra point attempt is good)
- 20-13 PITTSBURGH: Bills field goal (5:23) - Tyler Bass' 25-yard field goal attempt is good.
Drive info: 9 plays, 67 yards, 4:22
- 23-13 PITTSBURGH: Steelers field goal (2:47) - Chris Boswell's 45-yard field goal attempt is good.
Drive info: 9 plays, 48 yards, 2:41
- 23-16 PITTSBURGH: Bills field goal (0:49) - Tyler Bass' 42-yard field goal attempt is good.
Drive info: 10 plays, 40 yards, 1:56
The Bills will travel to South Florida for their first AFC East matchup of the 2021 season on Sunday, Sept. 19 against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Pregame coverage on WGR gets started at 7 a.m. ET with "Breakfast with the Bills - Fantasy Style" with Louie DiBiase and Derek Kramer. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET with John Murphy, Eric Wood and Sal Capaccio on the call.