TORONTO - O, Canada, did Trent Edwards ever find his groove during the Buffalo Bills' debut in their new northern home away from home.
Shaking off a sluggish performance in the Bills' preseason opener last week, Edwards was near-perfect in two series, going 9-for-11 for 104 yards and two touchdowns, in Buffalo's 24-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
In hitting tight end Robert Royal for both scores, Edwards showed why the Bills placed their faith in the 2007 third-round draft pick by awarding him the starting job ahead of J.P. Losman midway through last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is pressured by Buffalo Bills' Chris Kelsay during the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Thursday.
Rookie first-round draft pick Leodis McKelvin made a splash, too. The cornerback sealed the victory by scoring on an electric 95-yard kickoff return immediately after the Steelers (1-1) cut it to 17-14 on Rashard Mendenhall's 6-yard run.
Best of all, it allowed the Bills (1-1) to make a strong first impression in kicking off their five-year, eight-game series in Toronto, playing before a near-capacity crowd at the downtown Rogers Centre. As part of the series, which runs through 2012, the Bills will become the first NFL team to play an annual regular-season home game outside of the United States, starting on Dec. 7, when Buffalo faces Miami.
Edwards shook off a poor outing in a 17-14 loss at Washington last weekend, by going deep on the first play from scrimmage, hitting Lee Evans in the seam for a 33-yard gain. He also showed great touch on both touchdown passes. Royal made a leaping catch on a 7-yard pass in traffic deep in the end zone to open the scoring.
Edwards then placed a perfect pass, hitting Royal on an out-pattern for a 17-yard touchdown. The score capped an 11-play 90-yard drive. Edwards accounted for 79 yards of the drive, 57 passing and a 22-yard scamper up the middle to convert a third-and-13 deep in the Bills' zone.
''I was pleased with some of the things that we did, especially on that drive where we went 90 yards,'' Royal said. ''Overall, we did better today. But we still have a lot of things that we need to improve on.''
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Maybe so, but the scoring drives did come against the Steelers' first-string defense, a unit which allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season, but one that was minus strong safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring).
''We weren't at our peak,'' defensive tackle Casey Hampton said.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a solid outing, going 9-of-11 for 142 yards with a touchdown - a 40-yarder to Santonio Holmes - in three series.
More focus was on the Steelers' backup situation, with newly signed Byron Leftwich making his first appearance after Charlie Batch broke his collarbone in a 16-10 win over Philadelphia last week.
Leftwich completed his first attempt, a 24-yarder over the middle to Nate Washington, but then proved inconsistent, looking like someone who had only three days to pick up the Steelers offense.
The former Jacksonville starter, who spent last season with Atlanta, finished 5-of-11 for 41 yards during six series. He nearly lost a fumble before the ball rolled out of bounds, had a pass batted down by Spencer Johnson and didn't get help from rookie second-round pick, receiver Limas Sweed, who had an easy pass go through his hands.
Steelers third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon also scored on a 47-yard run.
The announced attendance of 48,434 was about 5,000 short of capacity, and considered a disappointment for series organizers, who are paying the Bills an average $9.75 million per game to show the NFL that Canada's largest city and financial capital can be home to a permanent franchise. Steep ticket prices, ranging from $75 to $575, didn't help. Hours before the game, fans were purchasing tickets with a $575 face value for as little as $90.