Steelers rally past Bills in opener
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Knowing it was going to take the Steelers’ new-look offense time to find its footing, Ben Roethlisberger was counting on Pittsburgh’s defense to keep the score close.
T.J. Watt and company delivered, with Pittsburgh getting the added bonus from its special teams in rallying from a 10-0 deficit to pull out a 23-16 season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
“We anticipate that a little bit, right? The bumps in the road the offense is going to have, the newness,” Roethlisberger said of an offense featuring a new coordinator, a retooled line and rookie running back Najee Harris. “We expect our defense to have to carry us. I told them that afterward, we appreciated their efforts, appreciated what they do, not losing faith in us.”
Watt had two sacks and a forced fumble in his first game after signing a four-year, $112 million contract extension that made him the NFL’s top-paid defensive player. And the defense kept the Bills’ dynamic Josh Allen-led passing attack in check by stopping Buffalo on fourth down on each of its first two possessions of the second half.
“I don’t want to say a dominant performance because obviously there’s still a lot left on the table,” Watt said. “But I’m very happy with where we are, especially Week 1.”
After managing three first downs and 53 yards through two quarters, Roethlisberger got to work in the second half by leading the Steelers to a score on each of their first four possessions.
In cutting Buffalo’s lead to 10-6 on a pair of Chris Boswell field goals, the Steelers went ahead on Roethlisberger’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson in the left corner of the end zone. The pass initially went off Johnson’s fingertips, but the receiver was able to secure the ball before tumbling out of bounds 3:41 into the fourth quarter.
The Steelers then extended their lead to 20-10 some 90 seconds later with Miles Killebrew bursting up the middle to block Matt Haack’s punt, and Ulysees Gilbert scooping up the loose ball at the Buffalo 9 and running it in untouched.
“I’m proud of the guys because they didn’t blink,” Roethlisberger said. “They stood up in the face of not playing well early.”
What was supposed to be Buffalo’s coming out party following a breakthrough season in which the Bills won their first AFC East title since 1995 and made their first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years turned into a dud for a team pegged by many this offseason as a Super Bowl contender.
The NFL’s second-highest scoring offense last year managed just one touchdown — Allen’s 3-yard pass to Gabriel Davis — and settled for three field goals despite crossing midfield on eight of its 11 possessions.