As debuts go, it was not a good night for homecomings and comebacks for a few Steelers as they lost to the New York Giants, 18-13, Saturday at Heinz Field.
Take William Gay. He's back at cornerback after a season away in Arizona with the Cardinals. He was supposed to play the nickel but with new starter Cortez Allen out after knee surgery, Gay started at left cornerback.
And that was Gay behind Victor Cruz as the Giants star receiver hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning in the first quarter. It was the kind of big play the Steelers defense rarely gives up, and it wasn't all Gay's fault. Troy Polamalu, trying to make a comeback from a season in which he only played seven games, did not provide much help, getting there too late.
"We lacked some detail, not only in coverage but in rush," coach Mike Tomlin said of that play. "Any time you apply pressure, and rush and coverage work together, there's a breakdown."
Welcome back Danny Smith, too. He's a Pittsburgh native, a former assistant coach at Central Catholic, who returned this year to coach the special teams. The first time he watched his unit do anything following a botched first offensive series of the game, Drew Butler's punt was blocked from his 17.
Like Gay, Smith could have used some help on that play, maybe having one of his players in the interior line blocking the Giants' Damontre Moore before he did some blocking of his own.
That wasn't the only special-teams gaffe. David Gilreath, trying to make it as a fifth receiver/punt returner, got his chance to return a punt in the third quarter and fumbled. The Giants took over at the Steelers 28, but Josh Brown's 38-yard field-goal try was wide left. Brown finished 3 of 4.
Then there was tackle Marcus Gilbert, returning from ankle surgery that shelved him after five games last season. He's back at right tackle and made himself heard when the first holding penalty of the season went against him, helping bog down that first Steelers possession that wound up at fourth-and-29, then that blocked punt.
It was a typical, sloppy first preseason game that included rookie Landry Jones taking his first snap as a pro. As a fourth-rounder, he is the highest quarterback drafted by the Steelers since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
He will remember that first snap. It came from his 4 early in the third quarter. Instead of handing off to Baron Batch, the two collided in the end zone. Jones lost the ball, picked it up and was tackled for a safety.
Another newcomer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, looked as if he knew his way around the place and since he played for Pitt at Heinz Field, he likely does. Stephens-Howling, the smallest Steeler at 5 feet 7, ran seven times for 40 yards in the first half.
Roethlisberger had a pedestrian two series, completing 4 of 8 for 36 yards. He was sacked once when guard Ramon Foster missed an assignment on the first series. On the second series, Roethlisberger ran some no-huddle, completed two passes to Emmanuel Sanders and Stephens-Howling did most of the other heavy lifting to put Shaun Suisham in 34-yard field-goal range for a 3-3 tie.
"I thought the line did a good job opening the holes and the zone blocking that everyone has stressed," Roethlisberger said. "We wanted to establish an identity early of running the ball, and I think we did a good job.".
Rookie Le'Veon Bell's anticipated debut never came off. Mike Tomlin, who promised to use his new halfback with some first-teamers, scratched him instead because of a sore knee that was bruised more than a week ago in practice.
"He was a little sore and slowed during the week," Tomlin explained. "I didn't feel comfortable playing him because I didn't like what I saw on Friday. He's going to be fine."
Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick, got no notable pressure on the quarterback but recovered a fumble, showing quickness getting to the ball after Andre Brown fumbled. He also made a nifty tackle in the third quarter on a short pass.
"He did a nice job, and he's doing some nice things," Tomlin said. "But we have to get more looks at him and others. I like the energy and enthusiasm, but we have to continue to raise our level of execution."
No. 2 quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Dormont native, looked better than his stats -- 6 of 11 for 35 yards. -- running away from pressure (he gained 9 yards on one carry) and leading them on a drive that ended with Suisham's second field goal, from 41 yards.
First Published August 11, 2013 12:30 AM