1 – Bombs away
For a Bills offense that has been largely forced to sacrifice explosiveness for efficiency through the first month of the season, the shackles were taken off Buffalo's high-powered passing attack on Sunday in the first half. Josh Allen uncorked a pair of bombs to Gabe Davis covering 98 and 62 yards on the team's first and fifth possessions, with the second blowing open their Week 5 contest against the Steelers en route to a convincing 38-3 victory.
Backed up on their two-yard line, Allen reared back on a 3rd-and-10 from the two and found Davis on a deep post as he got inside leverage on former Bill, Levi Wallace, and the safety help was late. Davis covered about half the field after the catch to tie the team record for longest touchdown reception originally set by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Terrell Owens in 2009 (98 yards at Jacksonville).
"As soon as I lined up, I saw the type of coverage they were playing and I knew that the safety was a little bit out-leveraged when he lined up," said Davis. "I knew it would be big if I just did what I was supposed to do. Luckily once I looked back, I saw Josh releasing the ball and I knew it was going to be a big play. I didn't know it was going to be 98 yards, but I just happened to come down with that and have that big run."
Up just 10-3 later in the half, Allen fired another deep shot down the center of the field to Davis, who got behind safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but had to fight for control of the ball with the All-Pro safety for a 62-yard touchdown
"Yeah, I feel like I couldn't get my left arm up, so I tried to catch it with one hand," Davis said. "I felt like I got a grip of it and then I feel like he hit me or something to make the ball fall and it went into his body and I was able to get my left hand up under it and rip it out before we went out of bounds."
Quarterback Josh Allen explained how much he believes that Davis will make the play, so he has no problem giving him a chance with a big play downfield.
"Gabe was running so I just gave him a chance to go catch a ball," said Allen. "He kind of tipped it straight into the safeties stomach and then pulled it out. It was an unbelievable play by him. But I've got so much trust and faith in 13 so it was good to see him get going and getting the ball early and often. I wouldn't say often when he only had three catches but for 170 and two touchdowns which is pretty crazy."
Only Davis' 201-yard, four-touchdown performance in last year's Divisional playoff at Kansas City topped his 171-yard day Sunday. His performance against the Steelers was also just the second multiple-touchdown game in the regular season of his career.
The two long scoring plays by Davis marked the first time a Bills receiver had a pair of 50-plus yard touchdowns in the first half of a game since Lee Evans had a pair of 83-yarders at Houston in 2006.
Through the first month of the season the Bills passing game had seen high cover two coverage almost two-thirds of the time (64.1%). The Steelers defense, especially with a beat up secondary, did much of the same, but Davis was pleased with the way they were able to capitalize with two big play opportunities regardless.
"I feel like when they were giving us a lot of that cover two zone," said Davis. "I feel like it was successful for them early in the game and they kind of trusted it. But we were able to adjust and play really well against it."
The result was not only points, but points in hurry as Buffalo had touchdown drives that covered 1:04, 10 seconds, 33 seconds, 2:37, and 57 seconds, handing the Steelers their worst margin of defeat since 1989 as the Bills averaged 12 yards per pass play in the game.
2 – A day of firsts for Bills rookies
Buffalo's roster still is far from healthy. Missing four starters on Sunday, the Bills made their next-man-up philosophy a reality. Those who stepped into the starting lineup or larger roles against the Steelers produced in the lopsided victory, especially the rookies.
Rookie draft choices Khalil Shakir, Kaiir Elam and James Cook all turned in big plays in the win. Shakir, who got most of the injured Isaiah McKenzie's work in the slot, had three receptions for 75 yards including a 24-yard touchdown catch when he beat man coverage. On the ensuing Pittsburgh possession Elam recorded the first interception of his career when Kenny Pickett tried to hit Diontae Johnson down the left sideline.
"Kaiir, he's put in so much work every single day," said Von Miller. "He does all the right things from watching film. I spend most of my time in the training room when I'm done with my work, and he's in the training room with me. He's talking to Tre' White. He's doing all the things that he could possibly do to have success. And when you see a young guy go out there and have success like he did, man, it just shows you. Success, it leaves clues. And he's been doing everything that he possibly can do to have success."
James Cook put a bow on the effort with a 24-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
"I think it was a good read by him, good cut," said head coach Sean McDermott. "The O-line did a good job and it looked like he had some blocking down the field. So those plays happen, not just because of one person but because of the overall effort in that case on the offense. Habits carry over from the way you practice to the game. Usually, that's what happens in this league. It's very seldom that they don't carry over one way or the other, so proud of the way he practiced, proud of the way he prepared."
For Shakir and Cook those plays marked their first career touchdowns in a Bills uniform.
"It felt good… really good," said Shakir of his scoring play. "I beat myself up on that drop that I had (earlier). Tragic. So, for Josh to still have that trust in me to throw it up there and go make a play on it ... I didn't even know what to do. It was a good feeling."
"Very poised young man, very mature for a rookie in particular," said McDermott of Shakir. "So, I think it really goes back to his process, the way he prepares, the way he's humble."
Terrel Bernard also saw time on defense late in the game as he replaced Matt Milano when the game had largely been decided.
"I mean it's just said every single day at practice," said Shakir. "We've got amazing guys on both sides of the ball, amazing veterans. So, when you go against guys – when Kaiir going against him (Stefon Diggs) every day, and Gabe every day, that sets the tone for him. And I'm going against guys like Taron and Dane, and it's just like they get you ready for these moments."
3 – Run defense holds firm
Buffalo has had a series of injuries at the defensive tackle position so far this season. On Sunday, they entered the game with their top eight defensive linemen active for the first time since Week 1. Despite those injuries, the Bills' run defense has been a top three unit in the league, and it was on display against the Steelers.
"I mean it's a team effort and Leslie (Frazier) did a good job along with the defensive staff getting through practice, giving them the looks they needed to see, the looks we were anticipating and then adjusting through the game too. They made some hay early, I think on the first drive, and then I thought the press box communication down to the field was phenomenal on really on both sides of the ball. So that's important and the players executed. You got to be able to win at the line of scrimmage and I thought we did a good job of that, and it took some pressure off of us in other areas."
There was little room for Steelers RB Najee Harris to operate as he managed just 20 yards on 11 carries for an anemic 1.8 yards per carry average. Backup Jaylen Warren didn't have much more success with just 12 yards on four carries before his carry at the end of the game that went for a game-long 12 yards for the Steelers.
Even though Pittsburgh had to move away from the run game when the score got out of hand, they could not run the ball from the beginning. With 54 total rushing yards, the Steelers became the third opponent in five games to be held under 60 rushing yards by the Bills this season.
"Coach McDermott, he challenged the offensive line and defensive line coming into this game," said Miller, who contributed a tackle for loss with his sack, "He said it was going to be won up front. Jordan Phillips, he took that challenge personally, and the offensive line and defensive lines did, too. And our defensive line, they played their a-- off. All four quarters, even when they put the twos in, they still didn't let the standard drop. It was an incredible day for all the guys that stepped up. That was a good win for the Buffalo Bills."