Failures in Red Zone Stood out for Bills in Season Opener

They scored just one touchdown from close range in one-score loss to Pittsburgh Steelers.
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The infamous fourth-and-1 debacle that ostensibly defined the Buffalo Bills' 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday was just one play.

Truth is, failures inside the red zone earlier and later were just as much to blame, said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who calls the offensive plays and took responsibility for failing the team.

"That's the game right there," Daboll said. "I mean, look, there's plays here and there throughout the game that you're going to hit, you're going to miss but 1-for-4 in the Red Zone, we're down there and we're settling [for field goals], that's hard to win a game, particularly against a defense like that."

The Bills' first trip inside the 20 came on the second play from scrimmage, when Josh Allen hit Cole Beasley for a 7-yard gain to the Steelers' 17 to make it second-and-3. But from there, Cam Sutton dropped Stefon Diggs for a 2-yard loss on a pass before Cam Heyward batted a third-down pass at the line.

Their only touchdown came just before the end of the first half, when Allen threaded a needle to Gabriel Davis in the back of the end zone on third down.

In the fourth quarter, after they had fallen behind by 10 points, Devin Singletary was stopped at the 7 on third down before fumbling out of bounds.

Then, with just under a minute remaining and the Bills again trailing by 10 following a Pittsburgh field goal, coach Sean McDermott sent the field-goal unit onto the field on first down after a holding call by right tackle Daryl Williams pushed the line of scrimmage back to the 24. The reasoning was that the Bills needed two scores anyway, they couldn't waste any more time on that possession.

But all Tyler Bass' 42-yard field goal with 46 seconds left did was set the final score, as the ensuing onside kick failed, plunging the Bills to the bottom of the AFC East standings with the Jets and Patriots.

Hardly anything worked for a team that last year led the AFC in scoring.

"Certainly you'd like to have all those calls back that don't quite work out the way you hoped," Daboll said. "But, you know, we were trying to be aggressive."

Part of the problem was that the Bills were aggressive when they should have been conservative and vice versa.

Their first play from scrimmage came after an electrifying 75-yard kickoff return by Isaiah McKenzie. But instead of going for the kill, they threw a short pass to Beasley, and already the air was starting to go out of Highmark Stadium.

Late in the first quarter, a failed flea-flicker on third down made it fourth-and-1 at the Buffalo 46. Allen pleaded for the offense to stay on the field, to no avail. A flea-flicker followed by a punt didn't seem to make sense there, either.

When it was over, the Bills were baffled but not pointing fingers.

But if the same type of decisions continue in crucial situations, it's only a matter of time before that happens too.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to