Jerricho Cotchery picks up a first down against the Bills in the fourth quarter at Heinz Field.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Antonio Brown might be the NFL's leading receiver, but when it comes to the red zone, Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target is Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery caught his team-leading sixth touchdown of the season in the Steelers' 23-10 victory against the Bills Sunday at Heinz Field. He caught a 5-yard pass from Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a 10-3 lead with 1:55 to go before halftime.
All six of Cotchery's touchdowns have come from inside the 20 and four of them have come from inside the 8.
"It's just opportunities," Cotchery said. "Ben's throwing great passes. It was a great ball on the fade. Last week he was throwing some great balls that gave me an opportunity to make plays. Every time you have an opportunity to make plays you want to make it for your quarterback. When that happens he has more and more confidence in you. That's the reward of it when you make those plays. Hopefully, I can keep doing that."
In his first two seasons with the Steelers, Cotchery recorded 33 receptions. He has 31 receptions through nine games this season.
"He's done a great job," Roethlisberger said. "He keeps his head down and goes to work every day. He's a hard worker. You trust him. You know where he's going to be and what he is going to do."
Cotchery moved up the depth chart to No. 3 receiver this season after the departure of Mike Wallace. There had been much talk in the preseason that third-round pick Markus Wheaton would eventually assume that role, but Cotchery's career year is putting those plans on hold.
Cotchery, who had three touchdowns in a loss last week to the Patriots, became the first Steelers player to record four touchdown receptions in a two-game span since Hines Ward did it in 2006.
"Coach [Todd] Haley talked about it early on in the offseason, getting me back in the slot and letting me do my thing in there," Cotchery said. "He held true to his word. I've been in the slot trying to make everything work. It's been good so far. We just have to keep going. We have a good stretch coming up here and we have to get rolling. It was fun to get a win [Sunday]."
An oldie but a goodie
Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Cotchery came on a play that offensive coordinator Haley used years ago when he was an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears.
Cotchery said the play is called "sleeper" because his job is to lull the defensive back into thinking the play is a run. Cotchery did his part by pretending to block cornerback Stephon Gilmore while Roethlisberger was using a play-action fake to running back Le'Veon Bell.
"I go up and put my hands on him like I'm blocking him," Cotchery said. "I put him to sleep and try to get a touchdown. It was a great call by coach Haley."
Haley was with the Bears as a wide receivers coach in 2002 when they used the same play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cornerback Ronde Barber. The Buccaneers secondary coach at the time? -- Mike Tomlin.
Three Steelers left the game with injuries and did not return. Starting guard Ramon Foster and reserve safety Shamarko Thomas departed with ankle injuries. Starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley left with a calf injury. Foster left the stadium in a walking boot and had to go get his ankle examined.
Tomlin said the extent of all three injuries will not be known until they are further evaluated.
Jones gets first sack
Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones had to wait nine weeks, but he finally recorded his first NFL sack. Jones, who saw more extensive action in the second half after Woodley left the game, sacked Bills quarterback EJ Manuel in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger's quarterback rating was only 77.6, but the most important number for Roethlisberger this season is 30. When he attempts 30 passes or fewer in a game the Steelers are 3-0. When he attempts 31 or more they're 0-6.
Roethlisberger was 18 for 30 for 204 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
With the victory, his 90th in 135 starts, Roethlisberger became the fifth-fastest quarterback in the Super Bowl era to reach 90 wins as a starter. Tom Brady did it in 115 starts. Joe Montana did it in 128, Terry Bradshaw in 129 and Ken Stabler in 133.
The Steelers continued to use the wildcat on a handful of offensive plays, including a 25-yard run by Emmanuel Sanders. Bell took the snap and handed it to Sanders, who raced around the end to set up the first points of the game for the Steelers, a 36-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham.
Bell, who ran the wildcat extensively at Michigan State, usually keeps the ball and runs when the Steelers line up in it. The reverse was a new wrinkle. Could a pass from Bell be in the future?
"It's up to the coaches," Bell said. "If they want me to throw it, I'll throw. I threw it at Michigan State. I played quarterback in high school, so we'll see."
Everyone in the stadium might have been thinking it was garbage time when the Bills scored with three seconds remaining, but don't tell that to Chris Gragg. The catch was the first touchdown of this rookie tight end's career. He had never caught a pass before Sunday but finished as the team's second-leading receiver with four catches for 25 yards.
• After allowing Buffalo to kick a field goal on its first possession, the Steelers forced a punt or created a turnover on the next 10 possessions.
• Bell has four rushing touchdowns through nine games. Only Franco Harris (5) had more through nine games as a rookie.
• Brown had six receptions for 104 yards for his sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career. He also has at least one reception in 49 consecutive games.
The Steelers deactivated quarterback Landry Jones, receiver Derek Moye, cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, tight end Richard Gordon, linebackers Kion Wilson and Chris Carter, and defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo.
The Bills deactivated quarterback Jeff Tuel, receiver Robert Woods, cornerback Justin Rogers, running back Ronnie Wingo, defensive back Brandon Smith, linebacker Ty Powell and offensive lineman Antoine McClain.
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