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Steelers take step back in Toronto

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Scott Brown
Friday, Aug. 15, 2008

TORONTO -- The Steelers' trip north of the border came up south of coach Mike Tomlin's expectations.

Same goes for Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison.

The starters were mistake-prone on offense, and the defense came out flat, letting the opponent put together an extended scoring drive on its first possession for the second time in as many games. As for the tackling, well, it's safe to say the Steelers put on anything but a clinic in that department in their 24-21 loss to the Bills in Toronto.

"Yeah, I'm concerned," Harrison said. "We got the ball drove down our throats three of the four times we were in there, so hell yeah I'm concerned"

The Steelers may wrap up training camp at the beginning of next week, but as Thursday night showed, there is still plenty of work to be done.

"We fell short essentially in all three phases," Tomlin said of the Steelers' second exhibition game.

A unit that led the NFL in total defense last season allowed second-year quarterback Trent Edwards to have his way with it.

Edwards completed 9-of-11 passes for 104 yards in marching the Bills for touchdowns on the only two possessions he played. Edwards, who will never be confused with Vince Young, kept the Bills' second drive alive by scrambling for 22 yards on third down after the Steelers had pinned Buffalo deep in its territory.

Fortunately for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger proved to be just as sharp, though he probably spent too much time for Tomlin's liking dodging Buffalo's pass rush.

Roethlisberger completed 9-of-11 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown as well as an interception.

He played three series before giving way to Byron Leftwich, who was signed earlier this week to back up Roethlisberger.

Santonio Holmes continued to look like an emerging star as he caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 40-yarder that got the Steelers on the scoreboard after they had fallen behind by two touchdowns. Hines Ward, meanwhile, hauled in three passes for 48 yards.

The starting offensive line's struggles included those with penalties. The line and tight end Heath Miller were flagged four times on the Steelers' first three possessions.

"We killed ourselves with penalties, and we can't let that happen," Roethlisberger said. "If you look at this game, we started really bad."

Edwards led drives of 67 and 90 yards, both of which ended with touchdown passes to tight end Robert Royal, as Buffalo took a 14-0 lead.

With the Steelers unable to establish the running game -- Willie Parker managed just 14 yards on five carries in another abbreviated outing for the Pro Bowler -- Roethlisberger took to the air.

He completed passes of 24 and 14 yards to Ward and running back Mewelde Moore, respectively, and then went up top to Holmes for the long touchdown.

The Steelers had a chance to cut further into Buffalo's lead before halftime, but Jeff Reed missed a 42-yard field goal.

The Steelers cut a 17-7 lead -- the Bills had kicked a field goal early in the third quarter -- to three points after a fumble recovery by rookie Donovan Woods set up a 6-yard touchdown run by first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall.

The Steelers, however, wasted little time in giving those points back as Buffalo rookie Leodis McKelvin returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

It was that kind of night for the Steelers -- on offense, defense and special teams.

"We weren't the more physical team and normally that doesn't happen," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We just have to check ourselves."

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