After watching the first possession for both the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers late in the afternoon yesterday, I thought it was going to be a great game for the Steel City. The Steelers' defense, ranked number one overall in the NFL, stopped Eli Manning and his Giants in just over two minutes, forcing a three and out. Moments later, on the fourth play of Pittsburgh's first drive, Mewelde Moore ran in from 32 yards out and Jeff Reed put the extra point through the uprights. 7-0 Steelers.
Moore, replacing Willie Parker once again, ran for 84 yards in the game and his first quarter TD run was his third rushing TD (4th total) of the season.
But this was their best offensive showing of the game. Yes, they did manage to make a great defensive stand the following drive against Eli, stopping them from scoring a touchdown after entering the red zone. New York had to settle for a 26-yard field goal attempt which veteran John Carney easily put through.
The nightmare began on the Steelers second, and final drive of the opening quarter. It started out with a 5-yard Hines Ward false start penalty, which is a rarity on its own. But, just three plays later Big Ben Roethlisberger threw just his fourth interception of the season, and it was his first of four on the night. Again, a rarity. New York's free safety James Butler was the one that picked the pass off moments before fumbling the ball, which was, in fact, recovered by the Giants. Here's a nice piece of information for you: entering the game, New York has not lost a fumble all season long. When the game was over, they STILL hadn't lost a fumble despite two fumbles (one by Butler and the other by RB Brandon Jacobs).
Another interesting fact: Pittsburgh had the number one defense entering the game, and had the most sacks on defense (25), but was unable to get to Manning one single time in the 60 minutes of play. Yes, that's right. The LB duo of James Harrison and second-year player Lamarr Woodley combined for just 9 tackles while on the other side of the ball the fierce Giants' defense sacked Roethlisberger five times, adding the 4 interceptions. Not only did Harrison's sackless game cost the Steelers, but his poor long snapping in the fourth quarter tied the game up at 14 late in the game.
Here's the scoop: Halfway through the third quarter the Steelers were driving down the field. The drive, which started at their own 23-yard line, seemed to be over, capped by a 53-yard TD pass to Nate Washington. But, a 10-yard holding penalty against Willie Colon nullified the long pass and put the Steelers drive on hold. Just three unsuccessful plays later Pittsburgh was forced to punt with the gimpy Mitch Berger, who seemed to tweak his hammy on an earlier punt. On the 51-yard punt by Berger (which surprised me very much, by the way), long snapper Greg Warren injured his knee. While attempting to limp off the field, Warren's left knee buckled as if it locked up, and he tumbled back down to the ground. As we all expected, he was unable to return to the game. Remember that, it will be important later on.
With about 7:21 remaining in the fourth and final quarter, New York stopped Pittsburgh to a three and out...a very painful one at that. On the three plays, Pittsburgh lost 12 yards and faced a 4th & 22 on their own 18-yard line, forcing a Mitch Berger punt (who, as I already stated, was a bit gimpy). Who shall do the long snapping for Berger?? Oh no! No one, besides Warren, has ever even practiced long snapping before. Well, since he's number two on the depth chart, behind Warren, why not send star LB James Harrison out there.
That was exactly what second-year head coach Mike Tomlin did. This resulted in two points for New York as Harrison's snap was about three feet over Berger's head. Unable to chase it down, Berger stood there as the ball rolled out of the back of their own defense. Heinz Field was dead quiet after this turn of events.
Manning went on to lead the G-men down the field on seven plays, scoring four minutes later on Manning's only touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss. Carney's extra point was good. 21-14 NYG.
Tom Coughlin continued to pressure Roethlisberger and his vulnerable offensive line, resulting in a turnover on downs and another interception on Pittsburgh's final two drives. Not a pretty game for the Steelers...at all! Very poor day for Roethlisberger. Very poor day for Pittsburgh's offensive line. Very poor day for Pittsburgh's number one rated defense. Pittsburgh was out-gained, and overall just outplayed. Yes, the defense was able to force a turnover on downs (which was huge because it was at their goal line), and yes they were able to force four red zone field goals, instead of touchdowns. But when it mattered most, the Giants took advantage of Pittsburgh's battered secondary, therefore winning the game.
Silly penalties, costly mistakes, and an abysmal 3rd and 4th down percentage (1 for 10 on third down; 0 for 4 on fourth down) cost the Steelers the game. They blew it. Not really much else you can say about this game other than the Giants ability to protect the passer. That was key for the now 6-1 New York Giants. I sure hope the Steelers can outplay the 5-2 Washington Redskins next week on Monday night. I can't wait (I will be there!).