Bills set the bar high in win over Steelers in Toronto

Paul Jannace

As first impressions go, the Buffalo Bills set the bar pretty high.

The Bills traveled to Toronto’s Rogers Centre to play their second preseason game of 2008, the first of eight games north of the border over the next five years, and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, 24-21.

While everything leading up to the tilt dealt with the uniqueness of the game being played outside the United States, once the opening whistle sounded, it did not matter if the game was played on Mars – the Bills needed to improve on the performance in Washington a week earlier.

They did that – and then some.

Quarterback Trent Edwards led two scoring drives, connecting with tight end Robert Royal for touchdowns of 7 and 13 yards to give Buffalo a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“We put together a couple of good drives and converted on a couple of third downs, which we weren’t able to do last week and that’s kind of what we’re going to be able to do,” said Edwards.

Pittsburgh did move the ball well against the Bills’ defense, but the first-stringers did not allow a point and forced a turnover – safety Donte Whitner’s interception on the opening drive of the game.

“Turnovers are key to this defense,” Whitner said. “Ko (Simpson) made a nice play. He tipped the ball and it popped right to me.

“To be a good defense and an attacking defense, we have to stuff all the gaps and stop the run and we’re doing that,” Whitner added. “We wanted another trip out there, but the coaches said no.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with wide receiver Santonio Holmes on a 40-yard touchdown to cut the Bills’ lead in half just past the midway point of the second quarter, but that came against Buffalo’s second-team defense.

The Bills once again are expected to have a much more potent offense in 2008, hoping to improve on 2007’s version which finished 30th in the NFL, but in the first preseason game against the Redskins, the first-team failed to move the ball despite some good field position and fell into the same traps it did last year – penalties in key spots and ineptness near the end zone.

That was not the case on Thursday, as the Steelers were the ones who shot themselves in the feet.

“If you look at this game, we started really bad,” said Roethlisberger, who finished 9-of-11 for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

A Rian Lindell 43-yard field goal gave the Bills a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter, as backup quarterbacks J.P. Losman, Gibran Hamdan and Matt Baker split time the rest of the way.

Edwards finished 9-for-11 for 104 yards and the two scores, while also showing some elusiveness and mobility in rushing 22 yards on a 3rd and 7 from the Bills’ 7-yard line on the first play of the second quarter.

“The thing I need to do is recognize when I need to run and when I don’t need to run and good quarterbacks in this game know when to use their speed, or lack thereof in my case,” Edwards said. “They’re going to run some two-man packages where they’re not going to account for the quarterback, so if I find a receiver is not open and there’s about 15 yards to gain for the first down, I need to be able to do that for this time to keep the chains moving.”

Wide receiver Lee Evans caught three passes for 55 yards, including a 23-yard strike from Edwards on the team’s first play from scrimmage.

Edwards spread the ball around, throwing to both running backs – Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson – receivers Evans and Roscoe Parrish and Royal.

“With our offense moving the ball against what we think is a real good football team and our defense got that early turnover, so it was a terrific start for us here in Toronto,” said Bills’ head coach Dick Jauron.

Buffalo (1-1) rushed for 159 total yards, led by rookie Xavier Omon’s 44 on 10 carries. Lynch carried five times for 25 yards.

Losman, who finished 4-of-5 for 19 yards, led the field goal drive before giving way to Baker at the midpoint of the third quarter.

Byron Leftwich, who the Steelers signed after backup quarterback Charlie Batch broke his collarbone in the preseason opener Friday night against Philadelphia, took over for Roethlisberger late in the second and went 5-of-11 for 41 yards.

The only big mistake the Bills made on Thursday night came from the team’s strongest link – special teams.

After the Bills’ defense made a stop late in the third quarter, Mitch Berger punted to rookie Leodis McKelvin, who let the ball drop in front of him and then glanced off Dustin Fox, recovered by Pittsburgh’s Donovan Woods at the Bills’ 18-y ard line, setting up a Rashard Mendenhall 6-yard touchdown, cutting the Bills’ lead to 17-14.

However, the special teams’ gaffe turned out to be a temporary lapse, as McKelvin took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

“Last week I should’ve broke one and this week I got one,” said McKelvin. “Once I got in the open field and I saw the kicker, I was thinking in my head, ‘don’t get tackled by the kicker.’ I made a move on him and I got up field and I scored.”

The Bills already have one of the best special teams squads in the NFL, featuring two of the best returners in Terrence McGee and Parrish, but when the team drafted McKelvin 11th overall in 2008 out of Troy, they did it with the intention of having him returning some kicks as well as playing cornerback.

“Two weeks in a row now, he gets that foot in the ground and just explodes, and when he does, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of guys that are going to be able to catch him,” Jauron said.

Dennis Dixon, the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback, whom they drafted this year in the fifth round out of Oregon, stated his case for a spot on the roster with a 47-yard scramble for a touchdown late in the fourth to make it 24-21.

Dixon completed only six passes on 15 attempts for 79 yards, but had a game-high 54 yards on only two carries.

The rookie also nearly completed a Hail Mary pass as time expired that would have won the game, but rookie wide receiver Micah Rucker, a rookie out of Eastern Illinois, had the ball go off his hands.

Daily Reporter