It was the main dress rehearsal for Buffalo's starters and the offense and defense got off to a good start, but they could not sustain their level of play throughout the first half. A turnover led to a momentum shift for Pittsburgh and the Steelers carried it into the second half with three takeaways all leading to touchdowns in a 38-7 win over the Bills.
"What I told the players after the game was two things that probably stuck in my craw a little bit more than anything else," said head coach Chan Gailey. "You cannot turn the ball over and I thought when they came off their own goal line, right before half and completed that long pass we got a little bit rattled. We have to hold our composure better than we did."
Buffalo's special teams unit set up the offense and defense with great field position early. An opening touchback by John Potter and a Brian Moorman punt downed at the Steelers four-yard line by Leodis McKelvin after the Bills' first possession gave the defense a pair of long fields.
The Buffalo defense sent Pittsburgh three-and-out on each of their first two possessions, with the Bills offense getting drive starts at midfield on their first two opportunities with the football. Ryan Fitzpatrick and company got things moving on their second drive. Fred Jackson picked up 23 yards on back-to-back carries of 15 and eight yards.
That was followed by a 25-yard pass play from Fitzpatrick to David Nelson on a deep crossing pattern to set up 1st-and-goal at the Steelers one-yard line. Jackson capped the drive on second and goal to put the Bills up 7-0 after Rian Lindell's extra point with 10 minutes left in the opening quarter.
"The offensive line did a great job getting me out on the safeties," said Jackson. "They figured out what they were doing on defense and were able to pick it up. Once we did that we were able to move the ball."
Buffalo's third possession looked promising after a 23-yard hook-up between Fitzpatric
k and Stevie Johnson to move the Bills out close to midfield. But the drive stalled thanks to a sack sandwiched around a pair of incomplete passes.
The Bills defense got another big stop as Nick Barnett and Spencer Johnson combined on a big 3rd-and-1 stop on Jonathan Dwyer to force another Pittsburgh punt. Barnett had 10 tackles in just a half of work, and Mario Williams had a pair of sacks.
"It was a collective effort," said Williams of the defense's early success. "All of us up front, we were just going. It was all about getting pressure and getting up field vertically. We just play off of one another and somebody is going to get there."
On the ensuing possession however, C.J. Spiller was stripped on a first down carry by Lawrence Timmons, with Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood grabbing the loose ball in mid-air for the recovery at the Buffalo 17-yard line. The Steelers pounded the ball into the end zone on a 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line with Isaac Redman getting in on a second effort run to tie the score (7-7) with just under eight minutes left in the half.
Fitzpatrick and Buffalo's offense never recovered after that, managing just a six-play drive and a three-play drive before the end of the half and the end of the night for the starters. The Bills starting quarterback finished the night 7-18 passing for 89 yards.
"We ended up in 3rd-and-10 tonight," said head coach Chan Gailey. "You cannot do that. We missed about two blocks. I though Fitz read really well tonight. He knew what was happening. We are getting him hit too much. That stuff has got to stop."
"The first third down we had the ball got batted down on the line, just something happened on every drive," said Fitzpatrick. "That's part of football and sometimes it just doesn't go your way. There was just one thing on every drive that kept us from completing the drive or continuing the drive. That comes down to consistency and that's something we need to get better at."
Following a failed two-minute drive by the Bills offense, Ben Roethlisberger orchestrated a 99-yard drive with 1:46 left in the half, completing a 33-yard pass to Jonathan Dwyer on 3rd-and-9 from his own three-yard line to keep the drive alive.
Eight plays later, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on an inside-out route for a six-yard touchdown catch and a 14-7 lead at the half.
"We started out very well on defense," said Barnett. "We were very physical in the run. Up to that last drive we really were playing very sound and mental-error free football. We have to keep it up."
Vince Young brought the second team offense on to start the second half, but an ill-advised pass thrown back across the field late on a scramble that was intended for Dorin Dickerson was picked off by Troy Polamalu at the Bills 39-yard line.
One play later Byron Leftwich hit Brown for his second touchdown of the night on a deep post to beat Terrence McGee and safety Da'Norris Searcy for a 39-yard pass play and a 21-7 edge.
Young had trouble moving the ball and had a second pass picked off when Robert Golden jumped an out route by Kamar Aiken and took the pass the other way 47 yards to the Buffalo 10-yard line. It took the Steelers two plays to reach the end zone with a 10-yard pass from Leftwich to Derrick Williams to put the game out of reach (28-7) with 10 minutes left.
Pittsburgh's third stringers added a field goal and touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
The Bills close out the preseason next Thursday at Detroit against the Lions with a 7 pm kickoff at Ford Field. However, Buffalo must trim 10 players from their roster to get down to the required 75 by 4 pm on Monday.