ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- This was not the kind of game Kenny Pickett will want to remember as his first NFL start.
Pickett was fine in his NFL debut as a starter, throwing for 327 yards. But Buffalo's Josh Allen was even better, as he threw four first-half touchdown passes and the Bills beat the Steelers, 38-3, here at Highmark Stadium.
On a windy day here along Lake Erie, Allen was unbothered, torturing an injury-depleted Steelers secondary by completing 20 of 31 passes for 424 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed five times for 42 yards before giving way to backup Case Keenum with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 5 game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium
"We got smashed," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
With the Steelers (1-4) missing cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Terrell Edmunds, things got even worse in the secondary as the game wore on, as cornerback Cam Sutton also left with a hamstring injury.
That left the Steelers highly susceptible to Buffalo's high-powered passing game.
Buffalo (4-1) was depleted in the secondary as well, but Allen made sure it didn't matter, completing seven passes that went for 20-yard gains or more.
"If there's anybody who said they had a great game, they're not searching hard enough," said defensive captain Cam Heyward. "We've all got to own this, top to bottom."
Pickett completed 34 of 51 passes in his first NFL start, but the Steelers failed on three fourth down conversions deep in Buffalo territory and also missed a pair of field goals.
"We were moving the ball up and down the field," Pickett said of the Steelers, who finished with a season-high 364 total yards. But we kept stalling out in the red zone."
The Steelers appeared to have the Bills right where they wanted them after Taiwan Jones muffed the game's opening kickoff, then struggled to pick it up and was tackled at the 2 by Tre Norwood.
But on third-and-10, Allen dropped back, avoided the Steelers' pass rush and connected with Gabe Davis for a 98-yard touchdown pass behind Norwood – subbing for an injured Terrell Edmunds – and Levi Wallace to give the Bills a 7-0 lead.
"Third-and-10 from the 2, you've got to get off the field," said Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. "That was unacceptable."
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, James Pierre muffed a short kick, with the ball bouncing to Buffalo's Taron Johnson at the Pittsburgh 21.
The Steelers defense held, however, and a holding penalty pushed the Bills back, as well, forcing a 49-yard field goal attempt by Bass. Cam Sutton came off the left side and got a hand on the kick, deflecting it into Cam Heyward and the Steelers took possession at their own 40.
Pickett converted a pair of third downs with passes to George Pickens and Zach Gentry, but on third-and-8 from the Buffalo 11, he tried to thread a pass to Diontae Johnson.
The pass was initially ruled complete at the 2 as Johnson drug his toes along the sideline, and the Steelers hustled to the line of scrimmage. But Von Miller dropped to the turf and officials stopped play before the ball could be snapped, then determined that Johnson was out of bounds, forcing a 29-yard Chris Boswell field goal that cut the Buffalo lead to 7-3.
The Bills regained their touchdown advantage, stalling at the Steelers' 17 before Bass kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 2:41 remaining in the first quarter.
The Steelers went three-and-out on their next possession and Pierre downed a Pressley Harvin punt at the 2. But Allen quickly moved the Bills downfield before he was intercepted by Wallace in the end zone on a pass intended for Davis from the 21.
But the Steelers again quickly punted back to the Bills and Allen and Davis again hooked up on another deep ball, this one on the first play from scrimmage after the punt. Davis wrestled the ball away from Minkah Fitzpatrick in the end zone after first catching the pass with one hand for a 62-yard touchdown reception and a 17-3 Buffalo lead with 13:56 remaining in the second quarter.
After another quick punt by the Steelers, the Bills again struck quickly, getting a 26-yard run by Devin Singletary on a play on which inside linebacker Myles Jack was penalized another 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. On the next play, Allen connected with Stephon Diggs for a 14-yard touchdown pass and a 24-3 lead with 7:20 remaining in the quarter.
The Steelers looked to answer on their next possession, driving to the Buffalo 19 before stalling, but Boswell's 33-yard field goal attempt went wide right and the Bills maintained their 24-3 lead.
Allen then struck again, leading a 77-yard touchdown drive in just 2:37, finishing it off with a 24-yard TD pass to rookie Khalil Shakur, who wrestled the ball away from cornerback Josh Jackson, who had been elevated from the practice squad on Saturday because of the injuries in the secondary.
He finished the first half 14 of 24 for 348 yards. The Steelers had 139 yards of offense.
Both teams missed on scoring opportunities in the third quarter, with the Bills' Quentin Morris fumbling into the end zone, where the loose ball was recovered by Jackson, and the Steelers then driving the length of the field only to have Boswell miss a second field goal attempt, this one from 45 yards.
Boswell's second miss came on the final play of the third quarter and the Bills quickly took just two plays to score from there, with rookie James Cook finishing things off with a 24-yard touchdown run after a Diggs catch and run of 41 yards to make it 38-3.
"We played bad and bad's an understatement," said Heyward.
"No need to sugar coat it," said Tomlin. "We got handled by a very good football team."