By Teresa Varley
The Steelers dropped their first preseason game of the year to even their record at 1-1 as they lost to the Buffalo Bills, 24-21, at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.
The Steelers got off to a rough start on offense with penalties hurting them, but bounced back with all three quarterbacks leading the team on a scoring drive.
Ben Roethlisberger completed nine of 11 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception in three series played. Byron Leftwich was five for 11 with 41 yards.
The first-team offense came out firing with Roethlisberger completing his first pass for seven yards to tight end Matt Spaeth. Roethlisberger stayed in the air hitting Santonio Holmes along the sideline for a 13-yard gain. Roethlisberger avoided the pressure on his next pass attempt, finding Hines Ward who got both feet inbounds for a 19-yard gain along the sideline.
On first down Roethlisberger went to Ward for a five-yard gain and Willie Parker took it up the middle for four yards to give the Steelers a third-and-one at the Bills 27-yard line. Parker went off left guard for two yards, but the play was negated by a holding penalty on center Justin Hartwig.
But, unlike a week ago when the Steelers came out and scored on their opening drive against the Eagles they wouldn't have that kind of success against the Bills. Roethlisberger was under pressure and his pass intended for Ward was intercepted by Donte Whitner and returned 11 yards to the Bills 33-yard line.
The Bills came out clicking on offense. Second-year quarterback Trent Edwards completed four of six passes for 47 yards on the opening drive while Marshawn Lynch had four carries for 20 yards. Edwards capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Robert Royal in the back of the end zone to give the Bills a 7-0 lead.
The Steelers got a spark when Parker went off right tackle for seven yards and Spaeth pulled in a 16-yard reception. On first down Parker ran for four and then was held to one-yard off left tackle. Heath Miller was called for a false start, backing the Steelers up and forcing them to go to the air on third-and-10. Roethlisberger was pressured by Aaron Schobel and was forced to throw it away.
Punter Paul Ernster tried to pin the Bills near the goal line, but despite a valiant effort by Nate Washington it bounced into the end zone for a touchdown. They got a break when the Bills were called for holding on the play, backing them up to their own 10-yard line.
It looked like the defense might come up with a big stop on the drive when James Harrison sacked Edwards for a seven-yard loss and a penalty had the Bills with their backs against the wall facing second-and-18 at the two-yard line. Edwards came up big and was able to scramble for 22 yards and a first down. He continued to move the ball down the field, getting big chunks of yard with completions of 21 and 17 yards and the Steelers being victims of their own missed tackles. Edwards was able to take the Bills all the way down the field and connected with Royal again for the score, this time for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Bills a 14-0 lead.
"We have to get our regular season legs under us pretty quickly and become a better tackling team," said Tomlin. "Nothing is broken schematically. Guys are where they are supposed to be. We don't have enough guys making sure tackles."
Roethlisberger remained in the game for the next drive and it paid dividends. After two disappointing drives, the Steelers moved the ball with a 24-yard completion to Ward and 21-yard pass to Mewelde Moore. Roethlisberger then went deep, hitting Holmes in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7.
"Our intent was to play three series," said Tomlin. "I thought we moved the football. We stalled ourselves in drives. You get penalties on third down and one it's not going to help you."
A much-needed defensive stop gave the Steelers the ball back and Leftwich made his debut in the black and gold. Leftwich completed his first pass, a 24-yard strike to Washington over the middle. He went back to Washington for six yards on the sideline, but on third down overthrew Willie Reid. Jeff Reed came on for a 42-yard field goal, but it went wide left and the Steelers came away empty on the drive.
The Steelers got one more shot before halftime but it wasn't pretty. Leftwich was sacked by Chris Ellis at the 20-yard line for an eight-yard loss, fumbled, and got a break when it looked like the Bills recovered but it was ruled out of bounds at the nine-yard line, sending the Steelers into the locker room at the half down by a touchdown.
The second half started off with a bang for the Bills as Dwayne Wright handled the work on the ground and J.P. Losman had a few short completions. Rian Lindell capped the drive with a 43-yard field goal to extend the Bills lead to 17-7.
After a few stalled drives the Steelers got a break thanks to some heads up play. Mitch Berger's punt bounced off a Bills player and rookie Donovan Woods alertly jumped on the ball for the recovery at the Bills 18-yard line. It was all Rashard Mendenhall who bounced off a wood-be tackler for nine-yard gain. After two short gains, Mendenhall broke free off right tackle for a six-yard touchdown run to bring the Steelers to within three at 17-14.
It wouldn't take long, though, for the Bills to get the points back. Leodis McKelvin fielded Paul Ernster's kickoff at the five-yard line and went virtually untouched for 95 yards and a touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
Dennis Dixon took over at quarterback and on his second possession got the Steelers right back in the game. On fourth-and-one Dixon went around right end on the naked bootleg and benefitted from blocks by Dezmond Sherrod and Limas Sweed as he took it 47 yards for the touchdown.
The Steelers had one last shot to tie the game, but a sack and a penalty pushed them all the way back to their own seven-yard line. Dallas Baker came up with two huge 25-yard receptions, but Dixon's Hail Mary at the end of the game wasn't able to be pulled in by Micah Rucker and time ran out on the Steelers.