Steelers display big-play ability as Pickett, Warren shine in 27-15 preseason victory over Bills
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent all of the spring and most of the summer talking about building an offense capable of big plays, the kind they’ve been lacking for large swaths of the past few seasons.
It’s just two games, preseason games at that. Still, there are signs that second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett is ready to lead an offense that no longer wants to be a liability.
Jaylen Warren sprinted practically untouched for a 62-yard score, Pickett delivered a perfect 25-yard strike to Pat Freiermuth and the Steelers breezed past the sloppy Buffalo Bills 27-15 on Saturday night.
The Steelers (2-0) scored just one offensive touchdown longer than 25 yards last season. They’ve produced four of them through two exhibition games, three of them coming with Pickett on the field.
“It’s good to see all the hard work kind of (pay off) in games,” Pickett said. “Obviously it’s preseason. But you know we put a lot of time together so you want to come out here and put points up and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Bills (1-1) were not quite as crisp in safety Damar Hamlin’s return to his hometown.
The Pittsburgh native received a warm ovation and exchanged hugs with several Steelers — including Pickett, a college teammate of Hamlin’s at Pitt — during the opening coin toss. Hamlin had three tackles in the first half as he continues his comeback from a near-death experience on the field in Cincinnati in January.
“It was super special,” Hamlin said of being asked to go out for the coin toss, a surprise coach Sean McDermott laid on him at the last minute. “Made me feel like a big kid.”
The good vibes of Hamlin’s return aside, the Bills showed there’s still plenty to work on before visiting the New York Jets on Sept. 11. Josh Allen completed 7 of 10 passes in what could be his lone preseason appearance but failed to lead Buffalo to any points during his three series.
The Bills did reach Pittsburgh territory on its second drive before penalties on three consecutive snaps pushed them out of scoring position, symbolic of a night when they were flagged 13 times and didn’t score until players who may not stick around when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Aug. 29.
McDermott called the penalties “unacceptable,” particularly since they were a point of emphasis after the Bills were penalized eight times in their preseason-opening win over Indianapolis.
Stefon Diggs caught two of the five passes sent his way for 22 yards. Rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid continued his impressive summer by hauling in three passes for 45 yards, one of the few bright spots for Buffalo.
Backup quarterback Matt Barkley threw three interceptions, including a lob that Pittsburgh second-round pick, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., hauled in to set up a touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Connor Heyward in the waning seconds of the first half to extend the lead to 21-0.
“It’s clear we’re not where we need to be right now,” McDermott said.
The Steelers, by comparison, look ready for their Sept. 10 opener against San Francisco. Pickett has played three series so far in the preseason. Each series has ended with Pittsburgh reaching the end zone, with all three touchdowns coming from at least 25 yards out.
“I like that we’re getting in some ‘splash,'” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, though he cautioned it’s been in a limited sample size.
Maybe, though for a team that finished 26th in points scored in 2022 and often needed extended drives to find the end zone, the early returns of what may be possible in 2023 are promising.
“We want to be a team capable of big plays,” Warren said. “It’s something we’ve been working toward all camp and to see it on the field, it shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Buffalo offensive tackle Tommy Doyle was carted off the field early in the third quarter with a left knee injury. Doyle’s injury leaves David Quessenberry as the only backup offensive tackle on the roster with NFL experience. … Bills starting tight end Dawson Knox did not dress because of a finger injury.
Pittsburgh starting defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi sat out a second straight game with a foot/ankle injury. … Backup offensive lineman Nate Herbig (shoulder) and safety Tre Norwood (leg) also did not play.
The Steelers unveiled a jersey display for late Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris during a pregame ceremony inside the Great Hall at Acrisure Stadium.
The club officially retired Harris’ No. 32 last December, just days after Harris died unexpectedly at 72. Longtime teammate Rocky Bleier spoke at the unveiling, which was attended by Harris’ widow Dana and their son Dok. Dana and Dok Harris also served as honorary captains for the game.
Bills: Visit Chicago next Saturday.
Steelers: Wrap up the preseason in Atlanta on Thursday.
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