By Christina Rivers
Under an overcast sky in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the NFL brought two top-caliber teams to give, if only for a few hours, area residents a respite from the storm that has devastated their communities. Honoring the military and first responders, the game was anticipated to be a hard-fought match between two teams that have seen more Super Bowl visits in the last seven years than any other teams in the league. While both teams started slow, the Steelers ultimately relied on their defense to stand fast against Eli Manning and the New York Giants in a 24-20 victory. The Steelers' win snaps a four-game positive streak by the NFC East division-leading Giants.
Ben Roethlisberger entered the game just seven days after posting a quarterback rating of 121.0 against the Washington Redskins. Facing a Giants defense that was rated the seventh-worst against the pass in the National Football league, giving up 437 yards to Tony Romo and the Cowboys last week, Roethlisberger was expected to pick apart the Giants' defensive backfield. Opening up the first offensive series, he handed the ball off to a healthy Isaac Redman and then found himself hitting the turf three plays later as Justin Tuck got loose from a poor block by Mike Adams. Roethlisberger would be sacked four times for a loss of 25 yards. He also threw an errant pass that was easily picked off by Corey Webster. Seeing pressure for most of the first three quarters of the game, Roethlisberger kept his feet moving, feeling a defensive rush behind him that often didn't exist. Despite also losing a fumble while attempting to make a pass (the ball was ruled to have been moving out of his hand before his arm went forward), Roethlisberger was able to get the offense back into momentum in the fourth quarter to throw for a total of 216 yards on 21/30 attempts. He finished the night with a 70.0 completion percentage, a quarterback rating of 98.8 and two key touchdowns. His longest went for 51 yards to a Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter.
While Roethlisberger was ranked 7th in the NFL in touchdowns (14), 6th in completion percentage (66.8), 9th in passing yards (1,987) and 5th in quarterback rating (101.4), he struggled against the Giants. Roethlisberger had a tough night as the early game plan stalled and offensive coordinator Todd Haley had to find a new page to work from. The Giants were bent on taking him out of his element, but through the mistakes and his obvious disdain at the play he felt should have been ruled an incompletion instead of a fumble for a touchdown, Roethlisberger still maintained veteran poise and led his team to a victory.
The offensive line knew that the Giants were coming for them. They struggled for three quarters until finally settling down and offering Roethlisberger better protection in the fourth quarter of the game. While they had trouble against the pass rush, they seemed to be more than capable in the run, opening up nice holes for the running game. Ramon Foster gave another outstanding performance, shoving his weight and defenders around to allow the Steelers to chew up yards on the ground when the passing game stalled. There wasn't much they could do about defenders who were able to get vertical and tip balls at the line. The Giants showed why vertical leap and long arms are important, but they were generally effective enough for the Steelers to get the ball rolling and finish the game. The offensive line was called for zero penalties, a major accomplishment against such an aggressive defensive front. If it weren't for the sacks that they allowed, the Steelers' offensive line would have been bigger heroes in the game.
The Steelers have their third 100-plus yards rusher in as many games, prompting some who believed the run was dead in Pittsburgh to wake up and take notice. With Jonathan Dwyer banged up, it was Redman's turn after two weeks off due to injury. Redman proved that he has the power to take the ball straight up the gut when needed and was able to rack up 147 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. His longest run went for 28 yards. His strength showed in important moments of the game, keeping the Steelers' offense on the field fighting for more.
After Antonio Brown lost a shoe and injured his ankle, Jerricho Cotchery came into the game and assisted the passing attack of the Steelers. Cotchery had four catches for 50 yards on the night. Once again, tight end Heath Miller was integral in the offense by not only assisting in blocking off the line, but also catching four passes of his own for 48 yards. All total, Roethlisberger threw to nine different targets. In the opening of the fourth quarter, Mike Wallace ran an outstanding slant route, caught the pass and blew past defenders into the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders caught his first regular season touchdown catch since the 2011 NFL season.
Give kudos to the Steelers' defense. In front of over 80,000 NFL fans, the defense was able to get back what the offense couldn't, and it took complete teamwork to do it. Keenan Lewis came out hot in the opening minutes of the game and knocked down one Manning pass, then tipped another at the line before he was targeted by Manning on a long play downfield and was called for pass interference. Lewis fell apart, having 87 yards of penalties on two plays.
Keeping Manning penned down to just 125 yards through the air and the Giants to 158 yards on the ground, the Steelers benefited from a tough grinding defense that made plays that mattered. Ike Taylor intercepted a Manning pass intended for Victor Cruz and set up a 58-yard drive that resulted in Sanders' 4-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter; just one play after the defensive backfield left Cruz wide open over the middle. Taylor had a chance at another interception, but dropped the ball and Will Allen was called for a helmet-to-helmet penalty. Although the penalty stood, Allen actually hit Cruz in the ribs. Cortez Allen also batted a ball down which led to LaMarr Woodley pressuring Manning on the next play. It forced the Giants to kick a field goal that fell short.
Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and James Harrison all played well in stopping the run and forcing Manning to try to win through the air. Manning ran out of time when Lawrence Timmons was able to get past the offensive line and sack him for a loss. The Steelers sacked Manning twice on the night for negative 11 yards. Woodley was credited with a forced fumble on a sack, but the Giants were able to recover the ball and punt it away.
Chris Rainey had another spectacular night returning kickoffs before he suffered a rib injury in the third quarter. Rainey had five returns for 173 yards; his longest for 68. Antonio Brown was forced to leave the game in the first half, which left the punt return duties to Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders had three returns for 76 yards. On his best run-back of the night, Sanders went 63 yards and was nearly in the end zone when Giants punter Steve Weatherford pushed him out of bounds. Special teams provided great starting yardage for the Steelers' offense, but the offense wasn't always able to turn it into points.
Looking to go ahead, the Steelers coaching staff called for a gadget play that might have worked had the New York defense not been so active off of the line. Kicker Shaun Suisham lined up to kick a field goal, then ran right out of the position and took a toss in the air from punter (holder) Drew Butler. He was stopped short of the first down and the Steelers were forced to turn the ball over on downs. While some may question the play calling, it resulted in the Giants being pinned down near their own end zone. The Giants were unable to do anything with the ball and were forced to punt. When the Steelers got the ball back, Redman was able to break loose for a big first down that sealed the win for the Steelers.
Story of the day
While the league announced that it was donating $1 million to disaster relief for the area and honored New York and New Jersey, the Steelers were willing to give up some of their own creature comforts in serve those who needed them more. Flying down on Sunday morning could have been a major disruption for some teams, but the Steelers were happy to allow others the shelter of motel and hotel rooms and other amenities. When they did spend time in a hotel, some of the players slept in hallways to give rooms to others. While the game could have been a real grudge match between two very competitive teams, both teams showed respect when Rainey went down on the field by gathering to pray and keeping their emotions in check for the most part on the field. With the Rooney-Mara connection, these two teams have a special tie to each other. While many may not call it the most memorable of the 2012 season, it is sure that many in the storm-battered area were relieved to see a great game of football.
"There are so many bigger things going on around here that what we do is not as important as real life," Roethlisberger said after the comeback victory. "My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone else who are going through so much. There were so many emotions going on, I didn't know what to expect from it. But maybe we were able to take their minds off their problems just a little."
Redman agreed. "Coming in (today) was tough and we had to deal with that adversity, but the Giants had to deal with adversity all week."
The win is Mike Tomlin's 60th since becoming the Steelers' head coach on January 22, 2007.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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