It's Kid's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the third preseason game on the 2012 docket. It's a much better Kid's Day feature than in years past when it's been preseason game No. 4 against Detroit, the annual Garbage Bowl we've seen marketed as “The Battle for Lake Erie.”
This game, against Pittsburgh, is the battle for Bradford, PA, Erie PA, and other places along the margin of the Steelers-Bills Venn diagram.
John Potter booms the opening kick out of the end zone. That's seven for seven during the preseason. That guy's on the team.
Pittsburgh goes three and out on the opening sequence and Mario Williams gets his first meaningless sack when Roethlisberger flops in the pocket.
The Bills don't fare much better. Steelers blitz on third down, Fitzpatrick tosses it into an arm and the Steelers nearly intercept the deflection save for a heady play by WR Donald Jones to break it up.
At this point, we're about eight plays into the game and no yellow flags. The scab refs look like they've settled in.
The Bills defense looks dialed up, swarming the ball and pressing the action.
Commercial break. My friend who I've somehow cajoled into watching this game with me is going on about his football injury last year, after enduring a Bills loss to the Jets in a bar and rolling himself down a hill. We're longing for some real football, some real pain.
Speaking of real pain, the Steelers' David DeCastro goes down badly and is carted off. The Steelers are already getting banged up.
The Bills drive in response looks pretty—nice return out of nothing for McKelvin, a few big runs from Freddie Jackson, and a long pass down the middle of the field to the tight-end/receiver hybrid thingamajig that David Nelson is down to the one yard line.
Then Determination Jackson barrels in on second down over the left side. I'm daydreaming already, wishing this was the real season and that this 7-0 lead on the Steelers meant something other than a tune-up.
Potter goes eight for eight. At 8:11 of the first quarter, the scab refs find their first chance to get in on the action. They flag Maurkice Pouncey for a holding, which negates a big gain for the Steelers' Redman on the ground.
Chris Kelsay drops into coverage on a 3rd-and-long, leaving a three-man front to rush, and just when I make fun of Kelsay for his pass coverage prowess, he makes the tackle on an ill-fated screen pass to nowhere.
The Steelers down the punt at the one. Or do they. Moments pass while Gailey presumably weighs whether he wants his team to 'build character” by starting a drive at the one, or if he wants to flex his own gameday preparedness by throwing the red flag.
At the last minute, Gailey throws it in.
And then Fitzpatrick throws one in at a leaping Stevie Johnson for a beautiful 23-yard connection.
On a 3rd-and-1, the Bills go Wildcat with C.J. Spiller and convert it. Just how useful is Brad Smith for this team? Steve Tasker calls it “trickeration.”
Brad Smith must have heard us, making a gorgeous tackle on punt coverage when the Bills go three and out.
In the second quarter, Fred Jackson looks 100 percent from his 2011 form.
Bills one for four on third down after a failed try on 3rd-and-11 from their own 30. The Steelers pressure up the middle, forcing Fitz to get rid of the ball quicker than he would like.
The scab refs get on the scoreboard though, with a dubious block in the back call on a punt.
Bills defense has looked pretty stout tonight and will get tested here with 10:27 of the second after C.J. Spiller gifts a butter ball fumble as he crosses the line of scrimmage.
Steelers have it near the 20. The Steelers get a quick first down and look rejuvenated.
Then on 1st-and-goal from the six, Kyle Williams bursts through to cause a three-yard loss on a run play.
Isaac Redman continues an up and down night with a nice push into the end zone on third down with Marcell Dareus' 325 pounds dragging on his ass.
Fitzpatrick finally completes a third down and finally finds Donald Jones on a 20-yard hookup. But the mood is tempered three plays later when Fitz throws short on a third down to Derek Hagan. He's looked out of step with his receivers and focused on the blitz most of the game.
Moorman's getting his work in, though.
Bills get their second sack on a four-man rush that absolutely kills it: Dareus, Williams times two and Kelsay. The Bills haven't had an effective four man rush since . . . .ooo . . .1998?
I blink and the Bills have punted again. Moorman is killing it, too. And the Bills D-line looks every bit as dominant as they were expected to look. That's a good sign for the preseason game that's meant to be the closest to the real thing.
Maybe I spoke to soon, as the Steelers launch a touchdown drive inside of two minutes after converting a third down from their own goal line with a 30-yard pass play.
After halftime, Vince Young comes out and immediately throws an ill-advised interception to Troy Polamalu. That's the second time a pass intended for Dorin Dickerson has been intercepted this preseason. I'm starting to think it's Dickerson's fault. Polamalu didn't get the memo on the second stringers starting the second half.
Byron Leftwich immediately throws a long touchdown strike to Antonio Brown, abusing cornerback Terrence McGee, seeing his first action off of injury.
Did I just hear Ray Bentley refer to Vince Young as “VY?” Is that what he's called?
Here's where the game enters the preseason lull where I wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life to be watching such a lame excuse for sports. The whole idea of sports is predicated upon winning. Once you take the desire to win away from the game, it stops being a game.
VY thinks so too. He takes another timeout.
Choice takes a nice pass out of the backfield over the USA football logo to get the Bills away from their own end zone. I take back all the bad things I've said about Choice for tonight. He looks good finding the seams and holes through the line of scrimmage.
VY throws another pick on a very similar-looking ball thrown toward the sidelines that is undercut and almost becomes a touchdown coming the other way. But as Tasker points out, “at least Young comes over and clothes lines him,” with a tackle that might be a flag if there were real refs in the game.
This is a good time to point out that the Bills starting offensive line didn't register any flags.
With ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, I'll say it: Vince Young looks awful. There was hope that his second preseason game showed growth and improvement over his first, but this, as Tasker just said, “is a step backward.”
A fascinating Thigpen vs. Young face-off in the final preseason game is must-see TV—or something like that.
What's with the Steelers and players named Batch?
Maybe I'm delirious from all this depressing football, but I'm starting to pine for Byron Leftwich to be the Bills' backup. Or maybe better yet, maybe Leftwich could start.
I'm calling the Steelers right now to offer them Tashard Choice, David Clowney, Tyler Thigpen and punter Shawn Powell for Byron Leftwich.
Back to back drops make VY look perhaps a little worse than he actually is. His throws lack a zip, though, his feet are rarely planted in the best way, not allowing him to really turn his hips into the throws.
Camera work with two minutes left shows all kinds of fans in the stands smiling. It's nice to see someone enjoying this. A 38-7 score revealed an overall poor game for the Bills on many levels.
One more game before the preseason gets put out of its misery and real football starts. There's the real rub of the preseason. The Bills are 0-3 in the preseason.
But will anyone care about that if the Bills win their first game?