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Quarter by quarter: Penalties, mistakes are Bills undoing in second half

Quarter by quarter: Penalties, mistakes are Bills undoing in second half

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Starting early

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (19) returns the opening kickoff against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.

Here is a quarter-by-quarter look at the Buffalo Bills' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

First quarter

Hot start then cold: Isaiah McKenzie had an electric start to the game, with a 75-yard return on the opening kick. He put the Bills at the 24-yard line to start, but they were unable to get a first down. McKenzie later briefly went to the locker room for a shoulder injury, but returned.

Lineup note: Running back Zack Moss was inactive Sunday, which coach Sean McDermott said was “just numbers.” The Bills went with Devin Singletary, Matt Breida and Taiwan Jones, along with fullback Reggie Gilliam.

Second guess: Needing just one yard on third down, the Bills opted for a flea-flicker that resulted in an incomplete pass from quarterback Josh Allen to wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Start of a trend: Holding was an issue for the Bills offensive line Sunday, and it started early. The Bills were flagged for holding three times on their second drive of the day, though one of those was declined.

Second quarter

Money well spent: On third-and-13, Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt strip sacked Allen, with Cameron Heyward recovering it and putting the Steelers on their 45-yard line. Watt became the highest paid defender in the NFL this week, and finished the game with two sacks.

Penalty declined: The Bills’ longest play of the day actually came against 12 defenders. Allen’s pass deep middle to receiver Gabe Davis was good for 37 yards, and came as the Steelers had too many men on the field. That didn’t slow Davis, and naturally, the penalty was declined, as the Bills moved into Pittsburgh territory.

A strong stretch: Shortly after the 37-yard pickup, Davis scored Buffalo’s lone touchdown of the day. On third-and-3, Allen found him for the touchdown to cap a 91-yard drive. Those were the only two catches of the day for Davis, who was targeted five times.

Difference maker: The Steelers were 0-for-3 on third down in the quarter. With their drives sputtering out, they only had the ball for 5:24 over that stretch. A 10-yard sack by safety Jordan Poyer helped keep one drive short, as Pittsburgh got just one first down in the second quarter. 

Third quarter

End the shutout: The Steelers were shut out in the first half, entering the locker room down 10-0 after two quarters. But they scored on their opening drive of the second half, a 24-yard field goal from Chris Boswell finally getting them on the board.

Canceled out: Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White intercepted Roethlisberger early in the third quarter. However, it was negated by the fact that White was also called for holding on the play. 

Missed opportunity: Allen missed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders twice deep on Sunday, the second time coming on the Bills’ first drive of the second half. On that drive, Allen was 3-of-8, including on incompletion on fourth-and-8.

Offense slowing: The Bills offense didn’t score in the third quarter, as the Steelers instead began a streak of 20-unanswered points. Their longest play of the quarter was a 12-yard catch by Cole Beasley, who finished with 60 yards and eight catches on 13 targets. Toward the end of the quarter, Allen’s pass to Beasley was batted at the line.

Fourth quarter

Zebra report: The Steelers’ first touchdown of the game came on a drive extended by a defensive pass interference call. On third-and-7, Roethlisberger was incomplete looking for Claypool. However, Bills cornerback Levi Wallace was flagged for DPI, a 26-yard penalty that moved the Steelers to the Buffalo 23. Pittsburgh capitalized two plays later.

A second second guess: The Bills also had an eyebrow-raising play call early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1, they ended up losing seven yards on a pitch to Matt Breida, giving the Steelers the ball on their own 48.

Key play: On the Bills’ next drive after the turnover on downs, they went three-and-out. Things spiraled from there, as Matt Haack’s punt was blocked by Miles Killebrew, and Ulysees Gilbert returned it for a touchdown, putting the Steelers up 20-10.

Run game going: Singletary’s longest run of the day came in the fourth quarter, a 25-yard run to the Pittsburgh 10. He finished the day with 72 yards on 11 carries, 49 of them on four carries in five plays on that drive.

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