Say this for the place-kicker who, unless Jeff Reed gets hurt worse, is in training camp mostly to audition for the rest of the NFL: Piotr Czech pieced together a three-game streak of Steelers field goals.
Starting for Reed, who stepped in a hole at Washington a week earlier and dressed but didn't kick last night, rookie free-agent Czech booted a 34-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give his side the lead, boomed kickoffs that kept the Bills bottled and acquitted himself adequately overall in the Steelers' 17-0 victory against Buffalo inside Heinz Field.
He missed his first attempt of the preseason, a 36-yarder against Arizona in the opener two weeks ago. But he was perfect on his next three.
A Poland-born guy from Keyport, N.J., and Wagner College, Czech followed that inaugural preseason miss with a 44-yard success that all but sealed the victory against the Super Bowl XLIII finalists, 20-10. Then, last week in a 17-13 loss at Washington, he made his only try, from 41 yards.
Last night, he didn't get any work until 12:40 of the second quarter, when he nailed that 34-yarder. Next, he showed a strong suit that could find him employment elsewhere by belting his first two kickoffs 70 yards apiece. On the first, Keyaron Fox clobbered Bills returner Leodis McKelvin at the 18, with help from Donovan Woods. The second time, McKelvin reached only the 17, but Buffalo got pushed back to its 9 via penalty.
Czech's third kickoff traveled 67 yards but the end result remained the same: The Bills and McKelvin didn't get past their 20.
By the way, this 6-foot-5, 210-pound kicker tallied five points in the first half alone -- that field goal plus two extra points -- and nearly equaled his preseason output from the previous two games, when he scored eight.
He missed from 40 yards, hitting it a tad right, midway through the third quarter.
That's a regular-season thing, but in this simulation game a handful of hurt or injured players -- besides Reed -- officially were given gold T-shirts and the night off. They included: receiver Santonio Holmes (back), halfback Willie Parker (hamstring), fullback Frank "The Tank" Summers (hamstring), plus defensive linemen Nick Eason (unknown) and Steve McLendon (elbow).
They joined players previously pronounced out: quarterback Dennis Dixon (shoulder ... which left a sling, so it must be improving), tight end Sean McHugh (knee arthroscopy) and guard Darnell Stapleton (knee ... though he maintains he aims to return by camp's close).
Limas Sweed, after the Steelers' opened with a two-tight-end set, played in Holmes' place at the start. Mendenhall started for Parker.
Among Buffalo's 10 absentees were Penn State rookie cornerback Lydell Sargeant (knee) and receiver Terrell Owens (toe).
The Steelers' defense held a third consecutive preseason foe without a first-half touchdown. After limiting the Bills to zero points, three first downs and 50 net yards before intermission last night, that meant the unit has yielded just two field goals in the opening halves of their three exhibitions to date -- one to each Arizona and Washington.
The previous time the Steelers pitched a preseason shutout was 35 exhibition games ago, in 2001 by 20-0 ... also against Buffalo in Heinz Field.
Joe Burnett's diving block of Rian Lindell's 33-yard field-goal attempt with 2:48 left kept the Bills' scoreless.
"It doesn't matter if he played or not," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said beforehand. "I don't really pay attention to people out there talking. He did a lot of talking last year. That's how we shut people up, just go out there and play our defense." It worked against Owens and his employers at the time, Dallas, in a 20-13 Steelers victory in December.
• Filling in admirably for Holmes, Sweed caught four of five passes thrown in his direction for 34 yards, both second-best for both teams. In fact, if he managed to get the other foot down on a sideline throw -- Sweed said Buffalo's McKelvin pushed him out before he could -- this second-year receiver would've earned the "Monday Night Football" horse-trailer honor, a Ben Roethlisberger joke that broke up the huddle.
"I was really proud of him," Roethlisberger said. "He did a great job. I thought he took a big step, made some great catches. At one point I told him, 'Welcome to the big leagues,' cause he made a big splash."
Added Sweed, who benefitted from Buffalo's lack of blitzing: "I was able to just run my routes, just play like I was in high school or college. I felt like I showed up when I needed to show up. I had the chance to make [catches], I made them.
"If I just play, good things happen. Like tonight."
• On one first-half play, Roethlisberger had so much time he looked behind him to see if there was a Bills rush. There wasn't. "Did he? Really?" right tackle Willie Colon said, adding a grin. "He's not used to that. So we got to try to make that a consistent thing."
• Linebacker James Farrior on the stymied Buffalo offense: "Maybe they need to huddle up a little bit more."
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .