PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger needed all of two series to reach the end zone twice on Saturday night.
At the rate EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills are going it might take a month to reach that total.
Maybe longer if they don’t have dynamic rookie receiver Sammy Watkins.
The latest rebuilding process remains a work in progress in Buffalo. The Pittsburgh Steelers offered a glimpse that theirs might already be done.
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 76-yard score on Pittsburgh’s second play from scrimmage and found Markus Wheaton for a 16-yard score as the Steelers edged the Bills 19-16 for their first preseason win in nearly two years.
“I think we came out and started fast,” Brown said. “We got some things going in a positive direction.”
Working almost exclusively out of the no-huddle, Roethlisberger finished 8 of 11 for 128 yards and the two scores. Shaun Suisham’s 20-yard field goal as time expired ended Pittsburgh’s five-game losing streak in exhibitions.
“The communication was what I wanted to work on and we didn’t have any mental errors of what I saw so far,” Roethlisberger said.
EJ Manuel completed 17 of 27 passes for 148 yards and an interception while playing the entire first half for Buffalo (1-2).
But the Bills’ starting offense failed to reach the end zone for the third straight game.
Watkins left early in the first quarter with a rib contusion and did not return. It’s uncertain whether the fourth overall pick in the draft will be available when the Bills host Tampa Bay next weekend.
“They’re going to run tests and everything and we’ll see how he is,” Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said.
Watkins walked off the field clutching his side during Buffalo’s first drive after Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier jumped over him while attempting to break up a pass attempt.
Minus the dynamic playmaker the Bills view as a pivotal part of the team’s future, Buffalo’s offense continued a familiar and frustrating pattern.
Manuel played well during a pair of joint practices with the Steelers this week and had little trouble doing it under the lights. Buffalo moved the ball with relative ease during a half in which the first-string offense racked up 212 total yards.
Crossing the goal line, however, was another matter.
The Bills drove into Pittsburgh territory four times with the starters on the field.
The result? Dan Carpenter’s two field goals and a pair of failed fourth-down attempts.
“We’re very close offensively,” Manuel said. “I think we’re very close to where we need to be. Obviously, there’s still tons of work to be done to get to that point, but I think we’re doing the right things.”
There were no such problems for the Steelers. Roethlisberger, working with an offense he insists can be one of the more potent in the league, hit Brown in stride on Pittsburgh’s second play from scrimmage and the Pro Bowl receiver ran away from a pair of defenders on his way to the end zone.
“It was a great read by Ben,” Brown said. “The defensive back got caught up with another guy. Ben hit me in the spot and I was able to get up to speed and turn the corner.”
The Steelers got the ball back moments later when Shazier – who missed the preseason opener with a right knee injury coach Mike Tomlin called a “boo boo” – showcased why Pittsburgh took him with the 15th pick in the first round.
Shazier stepped in front of Manuel’s pass intended for Scott Chandler and returned it 27 yards to the Buffalo 37.
The play highlighted a frantic half of play for Shazier, who finished with 11 total tackles in addition to his pick.
“I’m a rookie, it’s my first game, I missed some time,” Shazier said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were testing me but I did what I had to do.”
Given good field position after Shazier’s athletic grab, Roethlisberger didn’t let it go to waste. Facing third-and-11 at the Buffalo 16, he waited for Wheaton to beat Stephon Gilmore to the left corner. Wheaton’s hauled the pass in before tumbling out of bounds to make it 13-3.
The Bills operated at nearly the same pace, just without the same result. Marrone, trying to make something happen, twice had his starters go for it on fourth down in Pittsburgh territory.
Both times Buffalo came away with nothing as Manuel missed on short passes. Not exactly a confidence booster for a unit that has yet to reach the end zone with the guys at the top of the depth chart on the field.