Last night, the Steelers looked Super again.
Playing extensively for the first time since they beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers' starting lineup thoroughly dominated the Buffalo Bills in their first half of play.
Their first-half lead stood up as the final score, 17-0, and their second victory in three preseason games came minus Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and starting halfback Willie Parker, both out with minor injuries.
"It was a productive outing for us. It is great when you can pitch a shutout, even in August," said coach Mike Tomlin. "I see some good things, but still see some things where the Steelers are still beating the Steelers."
It was clearly evident last night that the Buffalo Bills could not do it. They too, had starters missing, most significantly wide receiver Terrell Owens, and their remade offensive line is a mess. But it did not take away from the Steelers' powerful performance.
"There were a lot of good things in the game," Tomlin said. "I was pleased with the performance collectively in terms of where we are."
No one looked better than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Having played just five series in the first two games (total points, seven), Roethlisberger and his offense had three good drive and scored 10 points. James Farrior added a touchdown to cap off the Steelers' smothering defensive display when he returned an interception 22 yards untouched.
Roethlisberger completed 15 of 19 passes for 168 yards.
"Overall, really happy," Roethlisberger said of his feelings about the way things went at Heinz Field. "We made some mistakes early, but then drove down the field and scored."
Old-hand Hines Ward looked to be in mid-career form, catching five passes for 74 yards, many of the tough-nails variety that Ward has made a living on. Second-year receiver Limas Sweed, who seems to have nailed down the No. 3 job, caught four passes for 34 yards, one stretching high over the middle, knowing he was about to get drilled.
Even Rashard Mendenhall had his moments after losing another fumble. Mendenhall scored his first professional touchdown in the United States when he ran uncontested 4 yards in the second quarter. He now has two scores, both in the preseason -- he ran for a 6-yard touchdown against the Bills in Toronto last summer.
As well as the offense looked, the Steelers' defense did them one better. Not only did they shut the Bills down, they scored a touchdown of their own on Farrior's return.
"I think we did pretty good," Farrior said.
The defense that has two new starters from the one that dominated the NFL in all categories last season, held the Bills to 50 yards in the first half on 19 plays. That defense's work night was extended by one series into the third quarter, when Buffalo's first offense gained 6 yards on three plays and then called it a night.
Even the special teams had a special night against Buffalo. Rookie Joe Burnett preserved their first shutout in 35 preseason game (since they beat Buffalo, 20-0, in 2001) when he blocked Rian Lindell's 33-yard field-goal try with 2:48 left. And Stefan Logan kept at it, returning four punts for a hefty 15.8-yard average.
So, the real Steelers, the ones who will take the field against Tennessee Sept. 10 to kick off the NFL season, look like they are ready. They will play little Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C. against the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers scored twice in 13 seconds to take a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
Their second drive deep into Buffalo territory yielded three points when Piotr Czech, kicking for slightly injured Jeff Reed, booted a 34-yard field goal.
Keyaron Fox, a dynamo again last night on coverage teams, nailed Leodis McKelvin at the 18 on the kickoff. Next play from there, Trent Edwards threw a pass toward Josh Reed on the right, except linebacker Farrior interrupted it at the 22. Farrior picked it off on the run and never stopped, sailing free into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-0 Steelers lead with 12:34 to go in the half.
The lead ballooned to 17-0 by halftime when Mendenhall ended an up-and-down half on the up with a nice, 4-yard run off the right side for a touchdown with 31 seconds to go.
Earlier, Mendenhall had a rough go, harking back to his days last summer when he developed an intense fumbling problem, losing three in the final two exhibition games.
Mendenhall had his best run of the preseason when he hit a hole on the right side quickly and picked up 12 yards. On the next play at Buffalo's 21, defensive tackle Kyle Williams hit Mendenhall at the line of scrimmage and the ball popped free. Buffalo's Keith Ellison recovered.
Tomlin virtually absolved Mendenhall of wrongdoing after the game; the coach blamed the offensive line for allowing penetration by Williams.
Mendenhall, though, rebounded with a few nice runs in the second quarter, one for 13 yards and the other for the touchdown. Their 2008 first-round draft choice ran 16 times, all in the first half, for 48 yards. He caught two passes for 16 yards.
The good quarterback play did not stop with Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch hit 7 of 9 passes for 79 yards and rookie Mike Reilly mopped up with a perfect 3 for 3.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published August 30, 2009 4:00 AM