EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ugly even as opening preseason games go, the Steelers muddled their way to a 20-16 loss against the New York Giants Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.
Ben Roethlisberger played only the first series and Troy Polamalu did not play at all. The rest of the Steelers roster did not play very well, at least collectively, until the backups’ backups took a fourth-quarter lead.
From his 43, Giants No. 2 quarterback Ryan Nassib threw slightly backward in the flat toward halfback Michael Cox. Linebacker Vic So’oto knocked it down at the 37. Linebacker Howard Jones picked up the loose ball and ran it in 28 yards for a score that was ruled a fumble recovery because it was not a forward pass.
Steelers Report: NY Giants 20, Steelers 16
Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac recap the Steelers' loss to the NY Giants from the Meadowlands in New Jersey. (Video by Peter Diana; 8/9/2014)
That put the Steelers ahead, 16-13, but not for long.
New York’s No. 3 quarterback, Curtis Painter, led his offense on an 80-yard drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Corey Washington for the winner with 2:50 left.
Steelers rookie Martavis Bryant lost a fumble at the New York 27 with 1:14 left after catching a 19-yard fourth-down pass.
Before the second-half flurry of scores and errors, the first and second teams slogged through a first half after which the Giants led, 13-3. There were a few highlights and many lowlights for the visitors. An early bright spot came when diminutive rookie Dri Archer touched the ball for the first time in a pro game, catching a short pass from Roethlisberger and flashing his 4.28 speed while running to a 46-yard completion.
But they failed in the red zone, their old bugaboo, and it went downhill from there throughout the first half.
That catch and run by Archer put the ball on the Giants 14. Two runs by LeGarrette Blount gained 7 yards, a fade pass to Lance Moore was not close and Shaun Suisham kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
“We got down there and we had a good run on first down, a good run on second down,” Roethlisberger said. “On third down we had a run-pass option. The pass looked good, but we were just off by a foot or two.”
Despite the inability to ring up a touchdown, Roethlisberger called it “a good, solid first series.”
“Obviously it helped that we had a huge play to Dri,” Roethlisberger said. “But we moved the ball down the field and got points on the board.”
Their early advantage vanished in 20 seconds because New York halfback Rashad Jennings, performing his best Terrelle Pryor imitation, ran up the middle on the next play from scrimmage for a 73-yard touchdown, a parting of the sea by linebackers and defensive linemen allowing it. Among those moved aside were Lawrence Timmons and Cam Heyward.
“We gave up a big run, but overall I think it was a pretty good night,” said new free safety Mike Mitchell. “I thought I tackled well, but there’s still lots of room for improvement.”
Lots. The Giants had at least a preseason experience advantage; this was their second game after they beat the Buffalo Bills last Sunday in the Hall of Fame game.
The Steelers first-team offense stuck around for a second series with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback, then retired for the night. After Jennings ran through the first-team defense, Mike Tomlin kept them on the field for two more series that lasted early into the second quarter.
If the Steelers, as advertised, are going to use the no-huddle offense more this season, they waited awhile in their first game to go to it. They did not run it until midway through the second quarter with Gradkowski.
Guard Ramon Foster left the game on the second series after getting poked in the eye. He did not return, but was not seriously injured. Chris Hubbard replaced him.
Sean Spence started at inside linebacker for injured rookie Ryan Shazier, marking a long comeback for the 2012 third-round draft pick who has not played since a preseason knee injury as a rookie.
Brad Wing had a tough introduction punting for the Steelers. His first three punts traveled 23, 27 and 21 yards. He has been the only punter in camp as veteran Adam Podlesh remains with his wife, who is recovering from a difficult pregnancy.
Jarvis Jones, last year’s first-round draft pick, sacked Eli Manning in the first quarter, matching his entire total from his rookie regular season. He put a nice inside move on backup left tackle Charles Brown and quickly dropped Manning.
“The tackle jumped outside and gave me the inside,” Jones said. “He gave me room to work on the inside and I took the inside and got up field.”
New York’s Josh Brown kicked a 45-yard field goal in the second quarter for a 10-3 Giants lead.
Gradkowski, who did not play a snap in his first regular season as the backup quarterback last year, had his ups and downs. Three plays after throwing a perfect pass to Markus Wheaton on third down for 28 yards, he overthew 6-foot-8 Matt Spaeth, who was wide open at the 2, from the 20 on third down.
Suisham, working with a new holder in Wing, followed by pushing a 38-yard field goal wide right later in the quarter.
Backup Brandon McManus kicked a 46-yard field goal for the Giants with 38 seconds left in the half.
Archer also returned punts and kickoffs for the Steelers, but made little impact in either.
Wing picked things up with some better punts in the second half and one of them led to a score, albeit only another field goal. Charles James, proving some more that Giants can make mistakes, too, muffed Wing’s 46-yard punt and Howard Jones recovered it at the New York 21.
Typical of this night, backup center Cody Wallace was whistled for holding on first down and the offense under third-string quarterback Landry Jones could not recover. Suisham was good from 38 to make it 13-6 New York in the third quarter.
Suisham kicked another in the fourth quarter, from 32 yards, as the Steelers nibbled a little more at the Giants lead and made it 13-9.
The Steelers offense converted only 2 of 14 third-down opportunities in the game.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
First Published August 9, 2014 9:46 PM