The concerns of the Buffalo fan base over the offense's preseason debut at Washington melted away quickly in Toronto as the starters staked Buffalo to an early 14-0 lead with their best play of the preseason in a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh at the Rogers Centre Thursday night.
"It was really a great way for us to start with our offense moving the ball against what we think is a real good football team," said head coach Dick Jauron. "It was a terrific start for us here in Toronto."
Buffalo's defense set the table for the offense when free safety Ko Simpson tipped a Ben Roethlisberger pass that was intercepted by Donte Whitner and returned to the Buffalo 43 on Pittsburgh's first possession.
"Turnovers are key to this defense," said Whitner. "Ko made a nice play. He tipped the ball and it popped right to me."
Trent Edwards then led the offense on an efficient 10-play 67-yard drive culminating with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to Robert Royal.
Buffalo's offense picked up yards in big chunks on the drive. Lee Evans had a 23-yard reception to get the Bills into Steelers territory on their first play from scrimmage. Evans and Marshawn Lynch accounted for all four first downs and 60 of the 67 yards on the drive.
"We did a good job up front stopping their front four," said Edwards. "There was plenty of time to throw the ball and that allowed our receivers to get open down the field, and allowed me plenty of time to be accurate with the ball."
After the first string defense forced a Steelers punt on their ensuing possession, Buffalo's attack again found the end zone. Despite being pinned deep inside their own two-yard line after a James Harrison sack on Edwards and a holding penalty, the Bills offense picked up a big first down on a 22-yard scramble by Edwards.
Consecutive completions to Roscoe Parrish (15 yards) and Evans (17 yards) followed by a pair of rushes and receptions by Fred Jackson, set up Royal's second touchdown reception from Edwards and a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
"I was pleased with some of the thing we did, especially on that drive where we went 90 (yards)," said Royal. "I am just trying to do my part."
That proved to be the end of the night for the starters with Edwards finishing 9-11 passing for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Pittsburgh finally responded after Buffalo's first team defense left the field as Roethlisberger hooked up with Santonio Holmes for a 40-yard touchdown play to cut Buffalo's lead in half, but the Bills front was generating a consistent pass rush.
Late in the first half when Chris Ellis sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Byron Leftwich and forced a fumble. It appeared that defensive tackle Spencer Johnson recovered the fumble along the near sideline deep in Steelers territory, but he was ruled out of bounds.
"We were able to apply a bit of pressure with the first group," said Chris Kelsay. "Actually even in the second quarter some of the young guys were able to step up and put some pressure on the quarterback and that's pivotal."
In the second half Buffalo's second unit, led by J.P. Losman, put a field goal drive together early in the third quarter gaining 45 yards on nine plays. Rian Lindell put a 43-yarder through the uprights for a 17-7 edge.
Pittsburgh pulled to within three after a special teams turnover by Buffalo when Leodis McKelvin chose not to field a punt near the Bills' 10-yard line and the loose ball grazed the leg of another Bills player. The Steelers recovered at the Buffalo 18-yard line and Rashard Mendenhall capped the possession with a six-yard touchdown run to make it 17-14.
But McKelvin would get redemption for Buffalo's special teams as he took the ensuing kickoff straight through the teeth of the Steelers' coverage unit for a 95-yard touchdown return to re-establish the Bills' 10-point lead (24-14) late in the third.
"I felt like I had no time to field the punt and get a couple of yards and I gave the call a little late and it touched one of our men and I felt like it was my fault," said McKelvin. "So I felt like I had to go out there and make it up and I went out there and the other 10 guys did a great job blocking and I returned the kick."
Pittsburgh third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon made it a much tighter game when he scrambled down the far sideline for a 47-yard touchdown run to pull the Steelers to within a field goal with under five minutes remaining.
Some effective running by Bills sixth-round pick Xavier Omon on Buffalo's final possession milked three minutes off the clock before turning it back over to Pittsburgh with 1:37 to play.
Ashton Youboty severely thwarted the Steelers' efforts to mount a scoring drive sacking Dixon on first down for a 14-yard loss and a last second hail Mary attempt fell incomplete in the Bills end zone as John Wendling broke up the pass allowing Buffalo to post their first preseason victory.