ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It took Ben Roethlisberger until the final two minutes of the first half to find his rhythm against the new-and-improved Buffalo Bills defense. But once the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback finally did get into synch, he looked like he was in mid-season form in a 38-7 preseason victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium Saturday night.
The win improved the Steelers to 2-1. The Bills dropped to 0-3.
With 1:46 remaining before intermission, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 98 yards in 11 plays, capping the march with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown to give Pittsburgh a 14-7 lead.
“It was all Ben,’’ Brown said. “I came out of my break with a little stumble and Ben still put the ball where I could make a great catch. It was a great throw by Ben."
Roethlisberger completed 7-of-8 passes for 92 yards on the drive. Big Ben ignited the march with a gutsy 33-yard pass to Jonathan Dwyer along the sidelines on a 3rd-and-8 from his own four.
“I just started calling my own plays,’’ he said of the game-changing drive. “We went no-huddle and up-tempo and we were throwing the ball and it felt good.”
The hot hand enabled the two-time Super Bowl champion to finish the first half and the game with 17 completions in 24 attempts for 169 yards and one score. He was replaced by Byron Leftwich on Pittsburgh’s first series of the second half.
“We had a slow start on offense; we just couldn’t move the ball,’’ Roethlisberger said. “I knew that we would be OK and that we would move the ball. We got down there and (Brown) made a great play.”
Brown, the third-year receiver out of Central Michigan, had a huge night, catching seven passes for 108 yards and two scores.
“It’s all about how you respond to adversity,” Brown said when asked about the slow start. “I think we did a good job rallying back towards the end of the half. Guys stepped up and that is what you need.”
Before the long scoring drive near the end of the half, the Steelers struggled mightily against Buffalo’s new-and-improved defense. Mario Williams, the Bills' $100 million free agent defensive end, had two sacks as Buffalo limited Pittsburgh to 64 yards and six first downs while forcing punts on each of the Steelers first five possessions. But for the second week in a row, the Bills wound up being burned by big plays.
“Up until that last series, we were playing very sound and mental error-free football,’’ said Bills linebacker Nick Barnett. “We have to keep that up. We (fell behind) for a reason, so we have to go out there and fix whatever mistakes we made. We have to go out here and try to take over the game.”
Buffalo also floundered offensively as five of its first six possessions ended in punts. The Bills only productive series came on their second possession as they drove 49 yards in five plays and went up 7-0 on a one-yard plunge by Fred Jackson. Jackson also had gains of 15 and 8 on the march, and Ryan Fitzpatrick set up the score when he connected on a 25-yard completion to David Nelson to the Steelers one.
Fitzpatrick did not look sharp, finishing his third preseason start with just seven completions in 18 attempts for 89 yards and a paltry 55.1 passer rating. But Bills coach Chan Gailey believed that Fitzpatrick played well, and that the main reason for his struggle was a lack of protection.
“To be honest, I thought Fitz read really well tonight,’’ Gailey said. “He knew what was happening. We are getting him hit too much. That stuff has got to stop.”
The Steelers didn’t get onto the scoreboard until their sixth possession as Isaac Redman knotted the score with a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:37 remaining in the first half. The TD came five plays after Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood recovered a fumble by running back C. J. Spiller at the Buffalo 18. The turnover was by caused by linebacker Lawrence Timmons’s jarring tackle.
Pittsburgh went up 21-7 on its first snap of the second half as Leftwich connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Brown. The touchdown toss came one play after Steelers safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass by Bills backup Vince Young.
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the game, Steelers reserve safety Robert Golden intercepted Young and returned the pick 47 yards to the Bills 8. Two snaps later, Leftwich threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams to give Pittsburgh a 28-7 lead.
Reserve Steelers kicker Daniel Hrapmann added a 40-yard field goal with 6:45 to go and Chris Rainey, the rookie running back from Florida, closed the scoring with a 41-yard touchdown sprint with 2:44 left.
NOTES: Leftwich was 5-for-8 for 105 yards and two scores. … The banged-up Steelers continued to battle the injury bug – as guard David DeCastro (right knee) and defensive end Brett Keisel (left ankle) left the game in the first half and did not return. DeCastro’s injury seemed to be serious as he had to be carted off. … Bills punter Brian Moorman placed five more kicks inside the 20, giving him 9 in 13 attempts this preseason. … Vince Young, who entered the game with a leg-up on the Bills backup quarterback job, had a tough night, completing just 12-of-26 passes for 103 yards. Both of his interceptions set up Pittsburgh touchdowns. … Redman returned to the starting lineup and had 24 yards on 12 carries. … Gailey successfully challenged a ruling that would have pinned the Bills on their own one. Drew Butler had dropped a punt at the one, but the replay challenge revealed that Steelers cover man Curtis Brown had a foot in the end zone when he tapped the ball back to his teammates. … Left offensive tackle Max Starks returned to the lineup, but Pittsburgh was still without linebacker James Harrison, wide receiver Mike Wallace and nose tackle Casey Hampton. Emmanuel Sanders replaced Wallace, Steve McLendon filled in for Hampton and Chris Carter replaced Harrison. … Bills rookie Cordy Glenn made his first start at left offensive tackle. Veteran Buffalo defensive end Chris Kelsay started in place of the injured Mark Anderson (groin) at right end.
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