Visiting Steelers rally to knock down Giants
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — From sleepy-eyed start to unforgettable fourth-quarter finish, there's never been a day like it in Steelers history.
They started the day of a road game back home in Pittsburgh — in Pittsburgh! — and compensated for a lack of rest by catching a nap in a New Jersey hotel ballroom. Then they proceeded to sleepwalk through three quarters in which they beat themselves more than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants did.
Down by 10 points to a streaking, confident team led by one of the great fourth-quarter quarterbacks, Eli Manning, the Steelers awakened to rally for a signature 24-20 win Sunday over the Giants at MetLife Stadium that featured one of the best defensive closeouts in franchise history.
“This wasn't another win,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “It's priceless.”
Rallying with Mike Wallace's 51-yard touchdown catch, Isaac Redman's 147-yard rushing day against the Giants' elite front four and Redman's go-ahead 1-yard touchdown run, the Steelers withstood a failed fake field goal in that turnaround fourth quarter with a performance the Steel Curtain would have envied.
“This was the best win we've had in my four years here,” Wallace said.
Manning threw for 243 yards in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay earlier this season. In this one, he threw for a net of minus-10 yards. His running game added only a single yard, and the Giants' minus-9 yards in the final 15 minutes were the second-fewest the Steelers have allowed in at least the past 20 years. They held Minnesota to minus-10 in 2005.
That was against an inept team at the end of a season. This was against the champs.
The Steelers outgained them, 147 to minus-9, in the fourth quarter.
“To get a win against defending Super Bowl champions, on a day like this where we overcame all this stuff — all the passion and emotion they had after the hurricane here — and we still came out and got the win,” Wallace said. “That says a whole lot about our team.”
Manning couldn't explain a quarter in which he was 1 for 5 and was sacked twice for 20 yards in losses.
“Obviously, they're a good defense,” he said. “They're talented, and they do a great job of mixing up looks.”
In their first eight games, the Giants (6-3) outscored their opponents by 42 points in the fourth quarter. As defensive end Justin Tuck said, “We're a team known for finishing.”
“Two weeks ago, we were the No. 1 big-play team in the league,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “I mean, it doesn't make any sense.”
Coughlin was animated and visibly disappointed during his postgame news conference.
“This is as disappointing a loss as we've had around here in a long time,” he said. “This was not the kind of game we had planned to play.”
The Steelers (5-3) won their third in a row, their second straight on the road and now can look to a home game against the Ravens (6-2) in two weeks as possibly being for the AFC North lead, if they take care of Kansas City next week.
“We're building something right now,” Foote said. “We're building something.”
Unable to secure hotel rooms because Hurricane Sandy has disrupted life in the New York/New Jersey area — multiple Giants players had no power in their homes all week — the Steelers didn't fly to the game site until six hours before kickoff following an unusual early-morning wakeup call.
“I don't think I've been that sleepy before a game before,” linebacker James Harrison said.
Roethlisberger called it “one of the craziest things ever.”
After the quick flight, they grabbed food and a nap.
“We had a lot of NFL superstar millionaires sleeping on the floor, with rolled up shirts as pillows, but football is football,” Foote said. “Put the ball down on grass and we'll play.”
They took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter on Roethlisberger's 4-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who played a bigger role in the offense after Antonio Brown went out early with an ankle injury.
The next two quarters were a mishmash of penalties — two pass interference calls on Keenan Lewis for 87 yards — questionable officiating calls and missed opportunities. Roethlisberger threw an interception and had his fumble returned 70 yards for a touchdown by Michael Boley — on an apparent incomplete pass in which his arm was coming forward.
“I can't figure out some of this stuff now,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Nor could Roethlisberger, who was 21 of 30 for 216 yards and two touchdowns, the 200th and 201st of his career counting the postseason.
“I thought it was absolutely an incomplete pass, the tuck rule,” Roethlisberger said. “I guess they thought the ball wiggled a little bit, but I had complete control of it all the way to the end.”
All that self-imposed hardship went away with a classic fourth quarter of Steelers defense during which Redman — the third starting running back in the last five weeks — ran for 54 yards.
Still, the Steelers didn't try to compare their unsettled day to the Giants' unsettled week. Some Giants players, like Manning, spent the week in a hotel; others, like Martellus Bennett, still go home each night to a cold, dark, powerless house. As he said, “It was a tough week, and it's even tougher to lose the game.”
“There's a lot of people that had a lot more adversity than what we had to deal with this morning,” Tomlin said. “The bottom line is we were here when they kicked the ball off. … We had a nice morning, and I thought our guys did a nice job of handling it.”
But for all of the emotion in a filled-up stadium where nearly 81,000 showed up despite the lack of most public transit, it was the Steelers who came up big at the end. Helped by a 79-7 edge in return yardage, they improved to 5-0 on the road in November the last two seasons.
It was easily their best win since they beat eventual AFC champion New England a year ago this week.
“We overcame a lot of things: adversity, calls, hurricanes, traveling on the same day,” Wallace said. “We really showed our true colors.”
Maybe they found themselves, too, in a season that began with bad losses to the Raiders and Titans in which they couldn't hold fourth-quarter leads.
“Coach Tomlin said, ‘This game is the fork in the road. Which way do we want to go?'” Redman said. “We're in the right direction.”
Even if it was a road never traveled before by the Steelers.