Who's the Boss?
Giants D batters Roethlisberger; Four Carney kicks & late TD to Boss gives NY victory
It was the championship prize fight it was supposed to be - two big boys slugging it out in the center of the ring toe-to-toe. The ring was the Heinz field gridiron; the reigning champ was the visitor - the former champ and #1 contender was at home, surrounded by fans and familiarity. Both came to fight and they fought hard. Jabs were few and far between as both seemed hell bent on knocking the other guy to the mat. In the end, the reigning champ - who was against the ropes for the better part of this match - scored a late knockout and staked their claim as "current" champ.
What a great game. What a strange game. It was smashmouth football at it's finest. There were injuries - some that sidelined players for a bit, some that knocked others right out of the game. While the Steelers defense was more efficient in guarding against big plays and extremely effectiive against the Giants running game, the Giants defense was better at getting to the quarterback.
The Giants had the opening drive and couldn't do much with it, going 3 and out. The Steelers went to work quickly on the midsection of the Giants, pounding RB Mewelde Moore (who started in place of the inactive Willie Parker) and nailing TE Heath Miller on a 22-yard strike right up the seam. 2 plays later, Moore rammed through the right side of the line and sprinted 36 yards for the first TD of the game, putting the Steelers ahead 7-0 only 4:44 into the 1st quarter.
The Giants controlled the clock in the early going, despite the quick strike by Pittsburgh. However, Tom Coughlin's "Green Zone" (his term for red zone) offense couldn't punch it in. Following John Carney's first of four field goals which made the score 7-3, Ben Roethlisberger threw his first of four interceptions on the day. Big Ben targeted Hines Ward (3 receptions for 30 yards) but threw low to the outside of his receiver and was picked off by a diving James Butler. The ensuing drive by New York carried over from the end of the first quarter into the second quarter. The Pitt defense was swallowing Brandon Jacobs (18 carries for 47 yards on the day) and were right on top of Giants receivers the minute they touched the ball. On 4th and goal, - inches from the end zone - Jacobs was stonewalled for the third straight time and the Steelers took over on downs. Pitt went three and out; on the punt, kicker Mitch Berger injured his hamstring and limped off the field. While Berger stayed in the game (and was quite effective), this was just the beginning of the Steelers punting units' woes.
Roethlisberger's second interception of the game came with 8:02 left in the half. By no fault of Roethlisberger's, a perfectly thrown pass to Nate Washington was outdone by a perfectly timed hit by Butler that popped the ball out of his hands right into rookie linebacker Bryan Kehl, who snatched it out of the air and ran it back to the Steeler 44. That possesion resulted in another field goal for the Giants, as the Steelers kept pressure on Eli Manning and the running game. NY was up 9-7 at halftime as the result of yet another stalled drive for the Giants offense and another John Carney field goal.
In the 3rd quarter, the "close but no cigar" antics of the Giants offense would bite them in the rear. Following a Jeff Feagles punt to the Pittsburgh 35 yard line, Roethlisberger heaved a perfectly thrown ball to Nate Washington along the left sideline for a 65 yard touchdown, putting the Steelers back on top 14-9. Safety James Butler actually looked surprised on the play; he displayed mad ballet skills as he pirouetted around Washington as he ran by him. In other words, Washington made Butler look ridiculous without having to do anything. It was Washington's only reception of the day, though he was denied another long TD pass later in the game - which I'll get to later in the story.
After the kickoff, the Giants again went three and out as the battle for time of possesion started to swing in favor of the home team. Pittsburgh started their next drive on their own 23 yard line, and began to move the ball effectively with the impressive work of Mewelde Moore (19 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD). Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to the Giants 36 yard line, and it looked like Pittsburgh had the Giants backed into a corner. The only thing needed to put the game out of reach was the knockout punch. Despite taking two consecutive penalties that pushed them back 20 yards- an illegal formation on Hines Ward, followed by an unnecessary roughness call on center Chris Kemoeatu - Roethlisberger landed a haymaker in the form of another deep strike to Nate Washington for a 53-yard touchdown.
Flag on the play. Holding on Willie Colon. Beautiful pass, great catch - null and void.
Make no mistake about it, this was the turning point of the game. Colon held Justin Tuck as he shot up the middle after Roethlisberger, and it was clear that - had Colon not dragged Tuck down - Big Ben would never have gotten that pass off in the first place. The drive ended in another punt by Mitch Berger, who was limping onto and off of the field by this point. What was shaping up to be the moment a winded and defenseless Giants team was slumping against the ropes - expecting to see Mills Lane jump in flailing his arms - some weak punches and near misses gave them just enough time to catch their breath and muster the energy for one more barrage.
In the fourth quarter the Giants took nearly six minutes of the clock on a 12 play, 62 yard drive that ended with - you guessed it - another John Carney field goal to put the Giants within 2 points - just a fifth field goal away from taking the lead. Visions of Matt Bahr in San Francisco danced through my head. Steelers 14, Giants 12.
The Steelers were pinned in their own zone for much of the fourth quarter as the Giants defense began smacking Roethlisberger to the ground with regularity. It had been a long, hard fought game by this time, but it was obvious that the Giants defense benefited from the rest Eli Manning and the offense provided them. The Pittsburgh offensive line, which had done a very good job for most of the game, had nothing left in the tank. On 4th and 22 from their own 18 yard line, Pittsburgh was forced to punt. Long snapper Greg Warren had left the game with a knee injury, so linebacker James Harrison replaced him (in one of those "ouch" moments that make you look away and grit your teeth, Warren's left knee buckled under him as he was being helped off the field - bending in a direction no man's leg should ever bend). Harrison's snap sailed over the head of Mitch Berger and out of the end zone for a Giants safety to tie the game 14-14. While the ball sailed 8 feet over his head, the fact is Berger wouldn't have been able to handle anything but a perfect snap because he couldn't jump or move side to side with his hamstring issue. Berger was very uneasy waiting for the snap and looked as if he was hobbled just standing still. His body language was telling about the extent of his pain; he showed a lot of guts in staying in the game and kicking as well as he did.
Ahmad Bradshaw pulled down the free kick at the 31 yard line and scampered 16 yards up to the 47. On a key 3rd and 7 from the 50-yard line, Eli Manning fired a bullet into the gut of Steve Smith (3 for 45) down to the Pittsburgh 25 yard line. Brandon Jacobs found light for the first time and barreled for 8 yards down to the 17. Three plays later, Manning tossed his first and only touchdown of the game, finding a wide open Kevin Boss (4 for 34) to put the Giants ahead with 3:11 left in the game. Pittsburgh ran their last four plays on the next drive, with Roethlisberger's 50-yard desperation launch getting picked off by safety Kenny Phillips to seal the deal.
*Ben vs. Eli : Roethlisberger - 13/29 for 189 yards - 1 TD - 4 INT Manning 19/32 for 199 yards - 1 TD - 0 INT
*Between The Lines : Ben Roethlisberger was knocked down 15 times and sacked 5 times. By comparison, Eli Manning was not sacked, and knocked down only 3 times. The rushing yardage totals were close, though neither team reached 100 yards. The Steelers, however, were much more effective in their running attack - averaging 4.5 yards per carry. New York averaged just 2.4 yards a carry.
*More "dropsies" for NY - Four to be exact. Two short ,simple passes to Madison Hedgecock went in and out of his hands like a hot pot of coffee. Mario Manningham dropped a similar pass later on with no one around him, and Jacobs took a handoff on a run that he let slip out of his grasp a few steps beyond the line. Manning may want to ask the coaches about this, because after three games of similar problems no else seems to notice.
*Injuries : Giants CB Kevin Dockery was knocked out of the game with muscle spasms. RB Brandon Jacobs also spent time on the sidelines during the fourth quarter, and appeared to be walking gingerly at times. He did come back in the game however, but team doctors will want to take a look att him this week. The Steelers lost Greg Warren as mentioned, along with Strong Safety Ryan Clark. No word yet on the extent of Clark's injury. As mentioned, punter Mitch Berger was hobbling and both will likely be evaluated on Tuesday. Also, Roethlisberger appeared to grab his left hand after a 1st quarter handoff to Moore. He immediately went to the sidelines to have it wrapped. It didn't seem to bother him afterwards, but it might be worth keeping an eye on.
*Terrible towels? How about Terrible Support : How about terrible attention to details... I had previously posted here that I was really surprised at the number of empty seats during the last 2 minutes of the game. As momluvsfootball pointed out, fans might be watching from the ramps along the upper tiers. I did in fact notice that during the last drive but never equated one with the other. I also spoke to a friend and Steelers fan today who has gone to games at Heinz field and said he's done this as well. Steelers fans (knowing some of them personally) are in fact loyal and knowledgable, and my questioning of the empty seats was more out of wonderment than trying to be accusatory. So in light of this information I apologize for the original criticism of the Steelers faithful I had posted.