Bills Coach Sean McDermott Explains His Puzzling Fourth Down Call

Matt Breida

Getty Matt Breida is tackled for a loss on a fourth-down play against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Buffalo Bills have developed a tried-and-true formula for fourth-and-short conversions over the past two years — stack the offensive line, put Josh Allen behind center and let one of the league’s biggest quarterbacks go crashing forward for a first down.

But in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bills head coach Sean McDermott deviated from that formula and got disastrous results. In his postgame press conference, McDermott explained exactly why he made the call and how he hopes the Bills will bounce back from the rough loss.

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McDermott’s Gamble Fails

The Bills were leading the Steelers 10-6 with just under 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter when they faced a 4th-and-1. The Bills had already driven to the Steelers side of the field but were not yet in field goal range, so McDermott opted to keep Allen and the offense on the field and go for it. This is the situation where Allen would normally run a quarterback sneak, part of the reason the Bills led the NFL in fourth-down completion percentage last season, converting on 80 percent of their attempts.

McDermott tried a drastically different strategy this time, however. After Allen faked a sneak toward the line, he turned around and threw a backward pass deep into the backfield to running back Matt Breida, which Steelers linebacker Jamir Jones snuffed out immediately. The Bills turned the ball over, and the Steelers took the next drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

After the game, McDermott said that he believed field position was important and it was too close to punt, but said the Bills failed to execute.

“I’ve got to do a better job of that, too,” he said in a postgame press conference.

For some Bills fans, the play may have looked very familiar — and it played out much better the first time around. The Bills ran an identical play during the 2004 season, with Drew Bledsoe pitching to Willis McGahee and fooling the Seattle Seahawks defense.

McDermott’s Fourth-Down Decisions Scrutinized

In each of the last two Bills games — Sunday’s loss to the Steelers and the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game — McDermott’s fourth-down decisions have come under scrutiny. While on Sunday it was the play-calling, last season it was his decision to settle for field goals.

After the loss to the Chiefs, McDermott also put the blame on himself and said he regretted lining up to kick to field goals rather than keeping the offense on the field and trying for a touchdown.

“Yeah, I did, I thought about it on both occasions, really,” McDermott said via video conference. “Maybe if I had to do it all over again I would have went for one of them.”

McDermott wasn’t the only one critical of the team’s execution on Sunday. Allen said there were too many mistakes, though believes that the Steelers just made a great play on snuffing out the ill-fated fourth-down attempt.

“It’s a play that we’ve kind of had in our back pocket and coach calls the play and we go out there and run it. Guy made a good play, I don’t know else to tell you, he made a good play,” Allen said, via WIVB.

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