The Giants had every reason to come out flat and weary against the Steelers, due in large part of dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But while they’ll never use that as an excuse, it was apparent from the opening kickoff that something wasn’t right for the home team, as they fell to the Steelers, 24-20.
The Steelers (5-3), also facing their own form of post-hurricane adversity by having to fly directly into New Jersey just hours before kickoff because their original hotel accommodations were ruined due to a loss of power, gutted out the win after running back Isaac Redman scored from 1-yard out for the final margin of score with just over four minutes remaining.
“I don’t think that’s the case, [because] we were prepared to play our best and it just didn’t happen tonight,” Eli Manning said, declining to use Hurricane Sandy as an excuse. “I thought our focus was good, our practices were good, and guys knew the game plan and what to expect. It wasn’t like guys were doing the wrong things and guys in the wrong spots. We just didn’t play well enough.”
Neither team looked sharp, as both star quarterbacks never seemed in synch, but in the end it was Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who was able to convert key third-down plays, while Manning couldn’t.
Both Pro Bowl signal callers, with a pair of matching Super Bowl rings, looked rather ordinary. Roethlisberger went 21-of-30 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Manning went 10-of-24 for 125 yards, one interception and didn’t throw for a touchdown for the second straight game.
“I haven’t been accurate when needed most. We just have to do a better job at the passing game,” Manning said. “They’re a good, talented defense and did a good job at mixing up the looks, [but] we’re not getting consistent shots down the field.”
Manning was particularly hard on himself when detailing the Giants’ final drive. The Steelers had just taken the lead after Redman’s touchdown, and the game was basically up to Manning to steal the win. The Giants started their final drive deep in their own territory, but it wasn’t unfamiliar territory for a guy who’s led two game-winning drives in the Super Bowl in recent years.
“We’ve been in those situations before where we needed big plays and bounced back to win the game, and we didn’t do that tonight. It’s just a matter of execution, [and] we just haven’t found a way to make plays down there [in the red zone],” Manning said. “It’s just been some bad decisions by me. We had the lead late and gave it back, but we had the chance to still come back and win the game, and we didn’t come through. We weren’t efficient in the red zone and on third downs. But we haven’t played great lately in those areas, and it finally caught up to us tonight.”
Neither team as a whole looked sharp, but it was Pittsburgh that was able to put together the game-changing drive when they marched 51 yards down the field for the win. Ultimately, it was Roethlisberger who was able to convert key third-down plays, and give the Steelers the chance to win.
And while the Giants’ meltdown will mostly lie at the feet of their famous quarterback, Manning said he’s culpable, but added it’s a collective loss and that the team as a whole needs to rally and find a way to improve.
“It’s just a combination of things. It’s not just one thing that will solve all our problems,” Manning said. “It takes everyone playing good football so we can get back on track and score some points.”
Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin was hesitant to put all the blame on his quarterback, saying it was a team letdown, noting his defense was the one to allow Roethlisberger to drive down the field.
“That’s as disappointing a loss as we’ve had around here in a long time, I think. Not to be overly reactionary or emotional, but to play a very good football team like that and [make key mistakes] was awful,” Coughlin said. “Offensively, again, for a couple of games in a row we didn’t play well. And we certainly didn’t tackle well, [and] we didn’t stop the run. We’ve lost games around here where we’ve played really well and physically battled away and just got beat, [but] this game wasn’t one of them. … We wanted so badly to win the game for obvious reasons.”
The Steelers could’ve also used the events as an excuse, as they had to fly into New Jersey just hours before kickoff. But ultimately, the road team showed more mettle.
“We just had a couple of miscues and couldn’t attack them the way we wanted to, especially on third down. It’s just the nature of the game and it happens,” said Victor Cruz, who was held scoreless. “It’s just a matter of executing out there. … We’ve just got to bang away at it and get it squared away.”
The Giants actually started off strong, as they jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the second quarter on the strength of a 70-yard touchdown return off a Roethlisberger fumble. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora strip-sacked Roethlisberger, and linebacker Michael Boley was able to scoop and score. The play brought some controversy, as it appeared Roethlisberger’s arm was going forward, but the score was upheld. Giants’ defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was also guilty of a block in the back on Boley’s return, but it wasn’t called. Such good fortunes made it appear that the Giants were on their way to a victory, even taking a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
Coughlin, sounding as discouraged as he’s sounded in years following a loss, simply said the team will have to right itself and shake this loss as quickly as possible.
“We didn’t play well and we are going to have to get this straightened around, some way, some form here, [and] quickly obviously,” he said. “That was not the kind of game we planned to play.”
Big Blue notes
»The Giants’ three-headed monster of a pass rush did their job in corralling Roethlisberger as they sacked him four times. New York’s triple-threat of defensive ends -- Pierre-Paul (two sacks), Justin Tuck (one) and Umenyiora (one) -- all got their hands on Pittsburgh’s signal-caller throughout the evening.
»New York’s secondary, maligned and banged up heading into the game, actually played as well a game as they had all season in limiting Roethlisberger. The Steelers’ speedy and feared corps of wideouts did little to help their quarterback, as they were blanketed all game by corners Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara. Webster had an interception on Roethlisberger in the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s leading wideout heading into the game, Mike Wallace, was mainly non-existent until he broke free for a 51-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter. Wallace posted just two catches for 15 yards on his other receptions. Even Roethlisberger’s security blanket, tight end Heath Miller, did little in helping out his signal caller, as he only tallied 48 yards on four catches. Miller entered the game leading the league among tight ends with six touchdown receptions, but was shutout by the Giants’ linebackers and safeties.
» Giants’ running back Ahmad Bradshaw could only muster 48 yards on 15 carries, and didn’t get into the end zone. His sidekick, Andre Brown, did but didn’t do much of anything beyond that as he had only 20 yards on seven carries. Since last month’s stretch when the Giants ran roughshod over the Browns and 49ers in back-to-back weeks, they have slowly gone into a tailspin.
» Conversely, the Steelers’ rushing game was much better than the Giants’ attack, as Redman toted the ball for game-highs of 147 yards on 26 carries. It was a startling reality considering the Giants had a respectable ranking against the run heading into the game (113 allowed per game on average), while the Steelers were anemic and working with their backup running back, due to the injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer.
»The Steelers’ special teams almost gave away the game when they squandered the field position they got following Emmanuel Sanders’s 63-yard punt return to the Giants’ 15-yard line. The prime real estate went for naught when the Steelers went for a fake field goal and eschewed a Shaun Suisham 20-yard game-tying field goal with 10:30 remaining and down 20-17. Suisham took an overhead backwards pitch from the holder, punter Drew Butler, and tried to run it into the end zone, but was tackled by Michael Coe for a loss of one.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.