Steelers Starters Crisp in Victory
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes in less than a half of work and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Buffalo Bills 19-16 on Saturday night.
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 76-yard score on Pittsburgh’s second play from scrimmage and found Markus Wheaton for a 16-yard strike to help the Steelers (1-1) won a preseason game for the first time in nearly two years.
Roethlisberger finished 8 of 11 for 128 yards and the two scores. Shaun Suisham’s 20-yard field goal as time expired ended Pittsburgh’s five-game losing streak in exhibitions.
EJ Manuel completed 17 of 27 passes for 148 yards and an interception while playing the entire first half for Buffalo (1-2), but the Bills’ starting offense failed to reach the end zone for the third straight game.
Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins left early in the first quarter with a rib injury. The former Clemson star did not return.
The fourth overall pick in the draft walked off the field clutching his side during Buffalo’s first drive after Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier jumped over him while attempting to break up a pass attempt. Minus the dynamic playmaker the Bills view as a pivotal part of the team’s latest stab at rebuilding, Buffalo’s offense continued a familiar and frustrating pattern.
Manuel played well during a pair of joint practices with the Steelers this week and had little trouble doing it under the lights. Buffalo (1-2) moved the ball with relative ease during a half in which the first-string offense racked up 212 total yards.
Crossing the goal line, however, was another matter entirely.
The Bills drove into Pittsburgh territory four times with the starters on the field. The result? Dan Carpenter’s two field goals and a pair of failed fourth-down attempts.
There were no such problems for the Steelers. Roethlisberger, working with an offense he insists can be one of the more explosive in the league, hit Brown in stride and the Pro Bowl receiver ran away from a pair of defenders on his way to the end zone.
“It was a great read by Ben,” Brown said. “The defensive back got caught up with another guy. Ben hit me in the spot and I was able to get up to speed and turn the corner.”
The Steelers got the ball back moments later when Shazier – who missed the preseason opener with a right knee injury coach Mike Tomlin called a “boo boo” – showcased why Pittsburgh took him with the 15th pick in the first round. Shazier stepped in front of Manuel’s pass intended for Scott Chandler and returned it 27 yards to the Buffalo 37.
The play highlighted a frantic half of play for Shazier, who finished with eight tackles in addition to his pick.
“I thought he did an awesome job filling in for his first game back from injury,” Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said about Shazier. “He made a few big plays for us.”
Working almost exclusively out of the no huddle, the Steelers took advantage. Facing third-and-11 at the Buffalo 16, Roethlisberger waited for Wheaton to beat Stephon Gilmore to the left corner. Wheaton’s hauled it in before tumbling out of bounds to make it 13-3.
Roethlisberger played one more series before giving way to the backups.
“The communication was what I wanted to work on, and we didn’t have mental errors of what I saw so far,” Roethlisberger said. “It was a good start to the no huddle.”
The Bills operated at nearly the same pace, just without the same result. Coach Doug Marrone, trying to make something happen, twice had his starters go for it on fourth down in Pittsburgh territory.
And twice they came up short. Manuel’s pass to T.J. Graham on fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 21 was knocked down by defensive lineman Cam Heyward. Manuel returned for one final drive at the end of the half and moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 3 only to see his fourth-down throw to Chandler batted away by Robert Golden.
“It would have been good if we would have finished with a touchdown on one of those drives,” Chandler said. “Wish we would have made it on that last one.”
Buffalo’s backups did reach the end zone midway through the third quarter when Anthony Dixon bulled over from a yard out to tie the game at 13.