There was much to like about the Steelers 19-16 victory over Buffalo at Heinz Field, Saturday night.
- First and foremost had to be the long-anticipated debut of linebacker Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh’s first round pick in 2014 NFL Draft.
After missing the Steelers first exhibition game last week at MetLife Stadium in New York with a knee bruise, Shazier started at inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons against the Bills and immediately made it clear why his new team is expecting so much of him so soon.
Shazier was credited with 11 solo tackles, a pass defensed, and, in a play that maybe demonstrated the kind of difference-maker he can be, Shazier (OK, its ONLY preseason, but he’s looking very much like safety Troy Polamalu) intercepted a pass down the middle that was intended for Bills’ tight end Scott Chandler and returned it into Pittsburgh territory.
The Steelers quickly capitalized on Shazier’s “splash play” and capped a 37 yard scoring drive when Ben Roethlisberger connected with second year receiver Markus Wheaton on a 16 yard touchdown pass to take a 13-3 first quarter lead.
It was the second touchdown pass of the first quarter for Roethlisberger, who connected with star receiver Antonio Brown for a 76 yard score on Pittsburgh’s second offensive play after the Bills took a 3-0 lead on their first series of the night.
- In game-action that actually extended into the second quarter, Roethlisberger, working extensively from his coveted no-huddle formation, went 8 of 11 for 128 yards and the two scoring passes.
It wasn’t a great night for Pittsburgh’s second and third string quarterbacks–Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones, respectively–who combined for 100 passing yards and three turnovers.
For Jones, the Steelers fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft, it was an especially difficult night, as he threw an INT and fumbled while being sacked after replacing Roethlisberger in the second quarter.
- Trailing 13-6 midway through the third quarter, the Bills tied the score on an Anthony Dixon one yard touchdown run.
In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh re-took the lead on a 48 yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that was the culmination of a 31 yard scoring drive led by Gradkowski.
With the game tied again in the waning seconds, and with overtime almost a certainty, Steelers reserve linebacker Vic So’oto sacked Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel and forced a fumble that fellow linebacker Howard Jones scooped up and returned to the Bills’ one yard line with 15 seconds remaining.
Two plays later, Suisham connected on a 20 yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers their first exhibition victory since 2012.
Next up for the Steelers is a date in Philadelphia Thursday night against the Eagles.