The Buffalo Bills earned the expectations that were bestowed upon them this offseason. They were a dangerous team in 2020, going 13-3 and making it to the AFC title game.
But if there’s every an axiom to embrace for the NFL, it’s this: Last year doesn’t mean squat this year.
That bore out in Buffalo’s disappointing 23-16 loss in Week 1 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Bills Stadium.
Buffalo struggled in nearly every phase of the game, despite taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. Josh Allen was ordinary at best. The offensive line appeared to struggle with the Steelers’ front. The Bills’ defense was strong early but could only do so much, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to get in rhythm after struggling early.
Oh, and when the Steelers returned a blocked Bills punt for a touchdown, it capped a 20-0 run that stole the momentum of the game.
The Bills made it interesting with a late field goal and an onside kick with less than a minute left, but the Steelers recovered to preserve the win.
The offensive inefficiency was the most concerning element from Sunday. The Bills scored all three times they reached the red zone, but two of those were short field goals. They also lost a fumble when Allen coughed it up near the end of the first half, and the Bills twice were stopped on fourth downs in the second half.
Buffalo had no answer for the Steelers up front. T.J. Watt, armed with a new contract that makes him the highest-paid defender in the NFL, terrorized the Bills with two sacks and the forced fumble on Allen.
Can these issues be corrected? They have some tough games early this season leading up to the Week 7 bye. They need to keep Allen far cleaner if they’re going to have a shot at taking down the Kansas City-level contenders of the world.
We also need to keep in mind that the Steelers might be pretty good.
But for the Bills, the Super Bowl talk has been tabled for now. Fortunately, they still have ample time to get up off the mat.
The Bills started slowly last season, too
A reminder: The Bills were ordinary at times early last season. They won their first four games in 2020 by a combined 19 points, none over playoff teams. Then they lost two straight to contenders — the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs — by a combined 35 points.
They didn’t have a positive point differential until Week 9. And they didn’t really hit their stride until after the Hail Mary loss to the Arizona Cardinals. So there’s time for this year’s model to figure it out. Don’t forget, we have an extra regular-season game to play with this year.
Head coach Sean McDermott has brought this team from the dumpster to the dais. It’s a talented roster that has refurbished its depth through the past few drafts, free agency and some smart trades.
This wasn’t the performance he or his coaching staff likely expected in Week 1. Perhaps it’s exactly the kind of game McDermott can show to his team and say, “See, maybe we’re not as good as everyone thinks” and use that as coaching fuel.