Around the AFC North: Steelers Begin Season With Statement Win Over Bills

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LB T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt Leads Sparkling Defensive Effort

A lot of people don't expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to repeat as AFC North champs, but the Steelers aren't ready to fade out of the picture.

With an impressive defensive performance led by T.J. Watt, who had two sacks, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble, the Steelers opened their season with a 23-16 victory against the Buffalo Bills. Many are touting the Bills as Super Bowl contenders after they reached the AFC championship game last season, but the Steelers went into the Bills' house and took over the game, holding quarterback Josh Allen and Buffalo to just six points in the second half.

Ben Roethlisberger had an efficient day (18 for 32, 188 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, no sacks), but there was no need for him to be spectacular. The Pittsburgh defense carried the day, and Roethlisberger had no problem with it, playing behind a revamped offensive line still trying to hit its stride.

"We expect our defense to have to carry us," Roethlisberger said after the game via the Steelers' website. "I told them that afterward, we appreciated their efforts, appreciated what they do, not losing faith in us."

It was Watt's first game since signing a reported $122 million contract extension last week, and he gave the Steelers immediate dividends. The Week 1 performance was more impressive because Watt didn't participate in 11-on-11 sessions during training camp while his contract extension was being negotiated. Yet, he appeared to be in midseason form, chasing down Allen for a strip sack that led to a Steelers fumble recovery.

According to ESPN's Brooke Pryor, Watt has 18 forced fumbles since entering the league in 2017, the most of any player. With Watt leading a defense anchored by two other Pro Bowlers from last season, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Cam Heyward, the Steelers like their outlook for 2021.

"I felt fresh all week," Watt said via Chris Adamski of the TribLive.com. "The three-man rotation we have (at outside linebacker) with Alex (Highsmith) and Melvin (Ingram) is something that's going to be really special."

Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase Has Jaw-Dropping Opener With Zero Drops

Five catches, 101 yards, zero drops.

That's how rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase introduced himself to the NFL during the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 overtime victory against the Minnesota Vikings. Dropped passes plagued Chase throughout training camp and the preseason, putting more scrutiny on the Bengals' decision to select him with the No. 5-overall pick.

Chase silenced any criticism, at least for Week 1, setting a franchise record for most receiving yards by a rookie in his first game.

"I know I was going to do it," Chase said via Ben Baby of ESPN.com. "It was just a matter of time. Just play my game and focus on what I came here to do, and that's what I did."

Quarterback Joe Burrow referenced the criticism aimed at Chase with sarcasm after the game.

"I thought he was dropping everything," Burrow said.

Chase's most explosive play was a 50-yard touchdown reception right before halftime, when he streaked down the sideline and had too much speed for Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

Cincinnati has had five straight losing seasons, but the Bengals will visit the Chicago Bears in Week 2 with a chance to start 2-0. Burrow threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in his first regular-season game after knee surgery, and Joe Mixon had 127 yards rushing. Adding Chase to the offense gives Bengals' opponents another playmaker to join talented wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

"I thought he delivered," Mixon said. "That's what we picked him for."

Cleveland Browns: Loss of Jedrick Wills to Injury Part of Disappointing Defeat to Chiefs

After marching to three touchdowns on their first three possessions, the Browns committed three turnovers in the second half and lost, 33-29, to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cleveland starting left tackle Jedrick Wills was carted off the field in the first half and did not return. There was no word Monday morning from the Browns on how long they expect Wills to be out, but he tweeted after the game that he was not discouraged by the injury.

Losing Wills for any length of time would impact the pass protection on Baker Mayfield's blindside.

Mayfield (21 of 28, 321 yards) threw a late interception while being grabbed around the leg, which sealed the Browns' fate.

It was a disappointing loss for the Browns, who wanted revenge after losing to Kansas City in last year's playoffs. But Patrick Mahomes (27 for 36, 337 yards, three touchdowns) rallied the Chiefs from a 22-10 halftime deficit, as Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown.

The Browns will have to regroup before thier home opener against the Houston Texans, and Mayfield believes they will. Cleveland lost its season-opener to the Ravens, 38-6, last year, but the Browns still made the playoffs.

"I'm going to be hard on myself, but go back and attack this week," Mayfield said via the team's website.

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