ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It was supposed to be a simple screen pass.
A play that had worked on the previous possession to jump-start a surgical drive down the field for a touchdown to give the Raiders an early lead.
One fateful play helped turn a promising start into a 38-10 blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and left a team riding the high of a season-opening upset road victory over a division opponent departing western New York searching for answers.
“We’ve got to do a better job and get our football team to do more things right if we’re going to compete against a team like this in an environment like this,” coach Josh McDaniels said.
It looked early on as if the Raiders (1-1) were going to do more than just compete.
Jimmy Garoppolo went 3-for-3 for 45 yards and a touchdown on an opening drive that included a 34-yard run on a jet sweep by rookie Tre Tucker and was capped by a 16-yard score to Davante Adams.
The defense followed with a three-and-out, and a sold-out Highmark Stadium crowd started to express uneasiness as its team with Super Bowl aspirations, coming off a loss in its opener, appeared in trouble.
Everything then changed in an instant.
On the fourth play of the ensuing drive, the Raiders had a screen play called, and the Bills sniffed it out immediately. Garoppolo tried to make the play work only to have the ball tipped in the air by Greg Rousseau and intercepted by Terrel Bernard.
The Bills scored seven plays later to tie the game and seize control. Buffalo (1-1) outscored the Raiders 38-3 after the interception and dominated on both sides of the ball.
“We created some momentum at the beginning of the game, but momentum is just a word,” McDaniels said. “You need to play well and coach well for 60 minutes. You can’t just live off the momentum of a drive. We had five decent plays and then didn’t play very well the rest of the game.
“I’m not real encouraged about much of what we did today as an overall team, and I take responsibility for that.”
Garoppolo threw two interceptions and finished with just 185 yards passing despite being behind for most of the final three quarters. The running game fared even worse, with Josh Jacobs finishing with nine carries for minus-2 yards. Zamir White gained 22 yards on four carries in garbage time but also lost a fumble.
“When they get ahead, it puts more pressure on us to execute better,” Raiders offensive tackle Kolton Miller said. “We didn’t do it, so it’s disappointing. But it’s not like we stopped fighting. We just need to perform better.”
Strong start not sustained
The defense surrendered 450 yards and didn’t force a turnover against the NFL’s most mistake-prone quarterback, Josh Allen.
“We got off to the good start we wanted to,” Garoppolo said. “We had talked about that all week, but we just didn’t sustain it. That starts with myself. I made way too many mistakes. Physical, mental, just all of it. Then we just couldn’t get in a rhythm. To beat a good team like that at their place, you have to play a lot better than that, and they just took advantage of us.”
The Raiders sure didn’t pack much of a punch on either side of the ball after landing its early haymaker.
Allen completed his first 13 passes and finished with an efficient 31-of-37 effort for 274 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He had thrown three interceptions and lost a fumble in Monday night’s 22-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets.
James Cook ran for 123 yards, and Latavius Murray and Damien Harris each scored a rushing touchdown.
The Raiders were outscored 17-0 after halftime, and it felt as if it could have been worse without some mercy from their hosts.
“After the first drive, we never really had control of the line of scrimmage,” McDaniels said.
Not all of it can be pinned on the tide shifting after the intercepted screen pass, but a switch was flipped somewhere.
“I wouldn’t say it turned there,” Jacobs said after becoming the first reigning rushing champion since the 1970 merger to finish a game with negative rushing yards the following season. “After that, we felt like we still had a chance to win.
“Probably the next couple drives I felt the energy change.”
Regardless, the Raiders finished their season-opening road trip with a close win and an ugly loss. They have a week to regroup before their home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Sunday Night Football.”