Leftwich shows the value of preseason games
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer dlolley@observer-reporter.com
8/26/2010

PITTSBURGH - NFL owners met Wednesday in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, cutting the preseason by two games and adding two more games to the regular season.

The Steelers last Saturday, however, showed the importance of the preseason.

NFL teams currently play four preseason games, and coaches use those "meaningless" games to assess the roster, get veteran players ready for the regular season and try new things.

Then there are the teachable moments, mistakes that can be learned from that aren't as painful because they occur in a game that doesn't count in the regular season standings.

One of those moments came at the end of the first half of the Steelers' 24-17 preseason victory over the New York Giants last Saturday.

After throwing a completion to Antwaan Randle El that was stopped just short of the goal line, quarterback Byron Leftwich rushed the Steelers to the line of scrimmage with under 30 seconds to play.

Leftwich could have spiked the ball to stop the clock or used the Steelers' remaining timeout.

Instead, he tried a quarterback sneak, attempting to catch the Giants off guard. But he also caught his teammates by surprise as the offensive line stood up at the snap instead of driving forward. Leftwich was stopped short of the end zone and the Steelers were forced to use the timeout.

Leftwich then threw incomplete to Randle El on second down and Mewelde Moore was stopped on a running play, allowing the half to end without the Steelers getting at least a field goal try.

"We wanted to kill that ball when we got that ball down there to the one, but we ended up stinking it (up)," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "We had to burn our last timeout, and at that point with fifteen seconds left, you've got issues. Thankfully, it's the preseason."

Leftwich took full responsibility for not putting some points on the board.

"It just didn't work," Leftwich said. "I have nothing against spiking the ball. I just messed it up.

"But that's part of the preseason. Part of the preseason is making those mistakes now instead of when it really starts to matter."

Leftwich, who is in line to start at least the first four games of the regular season for the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger serves his league-mandated suspension, has made 49 career starts in the NFL.

hat's one of the biggest reasons the coaching staff favors Leftwich over third-year player Dennis Dixon to replace Roethlisberger.

But the 30-year-old Leftwich also has started just five games over the past three seasons.

In that respect, he's a little rusty, which can lead to some mistakes.

"It was good that it happened," said Leftwich of his mismanagement of the game clock. "That's what's great about the preseason; you get a chance to put everyone in those situations. It's a situation where you're on the six-inch line and time's running out. What do you do? It's a good thing we got that out of the way. We learned a lot from that. We've talked about it and learned from it, and we'll be prepared for it when it counts."

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