ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills starting safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde left the news conference from Highmark Stadium with a message.
“Plenty of games left,” Hyde said while he moved toward the locker room. Poyer followed up with “Don’t panic” as he walked out behind his teammate.
The message could have been directed toward a number of people -- the media, fans or possibly themselves. After weeks and weeks of buildup about the Bills being Super Bowl contenders and this possibly being “the year,” the first game of the 2021 season ended with a thud. It could even be referred to as a wake-up call.
The 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers left the Bills with a disappointing 0-1 start to the season and opportunities for overreaction. After the Bills established a 10-0 lead in the first half, the Steelers struck back with 20 straight points, including a punt block touchdown that helped them put the game away on Sunday.
The issues the Bills displayed on the field -- eight penalties, questionable fourth-down playcalling and the special teams breakdown -- are correctable, with the biggest errors coming on the offensive side. Overall, the defense limited Steelers first-round pick running back Najee Harris and showed why this defensive line has so much potential, including a nice day by defensive tackle Ed Oliver (3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit).
“We've been here before -- it's one game,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I know the expectations are high, and that comes with the territory. But that said, you've got to stay humble and hungry in your approach every week.”
Quarterback Josh Allen was missing some of the magic he had during his MVP runner-up season last year, and he averaged just 5.3 yards attempt. He admitted there were plays he wanted back, specifically an overthrown deep pass to a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders that would likely have resulted in a first-half touchdown.
“Whether it be first-game nerves or jitters or feeling stuff with my feet, but again, I've got to play better,” Allen said. “I've got to be better. I know that.”
The quarterback did show some chemistry with his newest receiver, though, as Sanders had four receptions for 52 yards on eight targets. Sanders played 36 more snaps than fellow wide receiver Gabriel Davis, perhaps an indication of their usage going forward. Part of the quarterback’s issues stem from the play of the group in front of him. Allen was pressured on 31% of pass attempts despite the Steelers blitzing only once. He was 3-of-14 passing on those plays.
The interior of the offensive line was a major question heading into the season and that will remain the case -- Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford manned the guard spots for the majority of the first game. Four accepted holding penalties (six total) derailed drives and Allen was sacked three times. McDermott referred to those penalties as “unacceptable.”
Allen had a career-high 51 pass attempts in the loss, completing 30 of those throws for 270 yards and one touchdown.
With running back Zack Moss inactive due to “numbers,” per McDermott, running backs Devin Singletary and Matt Breida had a combined 15 carries for 76 yards. Allen is always going to have plenty of opportunities to throw the football, but balancing the offense, at least to an extent, is something the team struggled with last season and would only help going forward.
“I don’t want to give away things here in terms of ... just overall I can be better there,” McDermott said when asked about the running backs’ involvement.
With offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in his fourth season with Allen, the expectations for the unit are sky-high, as they should be. The offense still has to prove they can reach those expectations.
“We’re still going to go out there trying to score 40 every game,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “We feel like we can accomplish that if we do it how we do.”