- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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Watkins was hit in the ribs on a third-down pass early in the first quarter and quickly grabbed at the area in pain. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and did not return.
Here are some other thoughts on the Bills' preseason loss:
Quarterback EJ Manuel and the Bills' first-team offense played the entire first half, although that wasn't the plan entering the game. The Bills failed to get into the end zone on their first three trips into Steelers territory, so Doug Marrone wanted his offense to try a fourth time. It failed, as the Bills reached the Steelers' 3-yard line before two consecutive incompletions led to a turnover on downs. The Bills' red zone offense struggled last season and it's a problem that hasn't gone away. Manuel has yet to throw a touchdown pass this preseason.
As for Manuel's overall performance, there were ups and downs. His best throw of the night came on a 16-yard completion to Robert Woods that moved the chains in the second quarter. Overall, the Bills' first-team offense was 5-for-9 on third downs, which was a brighter spot. However, Manuel's night was marred by an interception by Ryan Shazier on a pass that was thrown slightly behind tight end Scott Chandler. Manuel's final stat line was 17-for-27 for 148 yards. There was not marked improvement over his outing on Aug. 8.
Watkins and Mike Williams received the start at receiver, with Chris Hogan entering on the first drive as a slot receiver. When Watkins was injured, he was replaced by Woods, who finished the first half with three catches for 49 yards. The Bills' leading receiver? Running back Fred Jackson, who caught seven passes for 28 yards. It was more of a dink-and-dunk night from Manuel, especially without Watkins.
The Steelers' offense got off to a quick start when Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a 76-yard catch-and-run on the Steelers' second play from scrimmage. On the play, safety Duke Williams collided with cornerback Corey Graham, allowing Brown to run free over the middle. Williams received the start in place of Aaron Williams, who came on with the second-team defense in the third quarter. Marrone previously said not to read into Aaron Williams' playing time as an indication of his performance in the preseason.