Secondary closes deal in Steelers' win over Giants
Keenan Lewis looked like a scrappy welterweight engaged in a gutsy bout, one accentuated with furious, perpetual exchanges of body blows with the New York Giants' slippery receivers.
The Steelers' sometimes-embattled cornerback took some shots — two pass interference penalties that totaled nearly the length of the field. But with quarterback Eli Manning trying to punch his way out of the corner, Lewis and the rest the Steelers' secondary delivered the knockout blows to secure a hard-fought 24-20 victory at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
“What did I tell you,” a jubilant Lewis said, referring to his boast that the secondary would hold up against a quarterback with a proven record of fourth-quarter comebacks.
The Steelers' secondary — victimized in Denver, Oakland and Tennessee — made play after play to turn back the defending Super Bowl champions. Lewis had a hand in three of the Steelers' five passes defended.
Yet, cornerback Ike Taylor said the Steelers must prove they can close the deal consistently when they host the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.”
The league's second-ranked defense closed with a flurry in holding Manning to his fewest passing yards (125) since 2008. Manning, under siege by linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, couldn't find his rhythm or his favorite target, Victor Cruz, who had his confidence shaken after taking a heavy shot from safety Ryan Clark.
The numbers were reflective of the Steelers' dominance over the final 15 minutes. The Giants, who entered the game with a 72-13 fourth-quarter advantage, were limited to minus-9 yards on three possessions and Manning's only third-down completion netted 1 yard.
“We're closing out the fourth quarter, which is what we weren't doing early in the season,” said Taylor, who registered his first interception. “We're finally getting around the ball a little bit.
“We kind of embraced the challenge. It was businesslike.”
The Steelers were all business despite traveling on gameday because of Hurricane Sandy. The top-ranked secondary simply overwhelmed the Giants as Taylor and Lewis patrolled the boundaries to deny Manning any good looks down field.
“Two weeks ago, we were the No. 1 big-play team in the league,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I mean it doesn't make any sense.”
The Steelers were determined to keep Cruz from doing his rhythmic Salsa dance in the end zone. While Clark faces the possibility of a fine for a hit that shocked Cruz's ribs, it was a blow that set the tone down the stretch.
The Giants' receivers make a living in the middle of the field. On Sunday, they were seemingly unwilling to challenge the Steelers with their array of skinny posts and slant routes, particularly on third down.
“It's going to take closing games out in the fourth quarter for us to continue to win,” Taylor said. “We challenged ourselves as a defense going against Eli, especially in the fourth quarter — and especially the secondary.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.