Eli and Giants hit a late-game Steel wall

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second...

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second quarter of their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

John Kryk, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:05 PM ET

The stage was all set for another Eli Manning comeback special.

His New York Giants trailed the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers by four points with four minutes left.

How many times does Eli pull out a victory against a marquee opponent in such a circumstance? Like, always – right?

Not on Sunday.

After taking a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants kind of, well, fell apart.

The Steelers won 24-20.

Pittsburgh is playing its best ball maybe in two years, so it’s not a surprise the Steelers won. It is a surprise, though, how the Giants played down the stretch.

The Steelers not only shut them out, they shut them down – completely – in the fourth quarter.

“Offensively, we’re not playing good football right now,” Manning told the Giants radio network afterward. “We got away with it the last few weeks, and had some key drives in the fourth quarter to get us back in the game and get a lead, but we couldn’t pull it off tonight.”

Deservedly or not, the Giants had control of this one through three quarters.

They were up 14-10 at the half, thanks to what appeared to be a brutal call. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tried to stop a throw, but the ball came out on his follow-through and was picked up and returned 70 yards for a touchdown by Giants linebacker Michael Boley.

Roethlisberger appeared sure it would be overturned on video review, but the score stood.

Two Lawrence Tynes field goals put New York ahead 20-10 after three quarters.

Then all the breaks that had gone against the Steelers came at them in waves. And the Steelers defence took over.

Mike Wallace took a simple look-in pass 51 yards for a touchdown that changed momentum for good with 14:05 left, narrowing New York’s lead to 20-17.

The Giants then went three-and-out.

With 10 minutes left, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opted for a fake field goal from the Giants’ three-yard line. But Giants corner Michael Coe gobbled up Wallaceburg, Ont., placekicker Sean Suisham for a one-yard loss, after he’d taken a backward-over-the-head pitch from his holder.

The Giants then went three-and-out.

Roethlisberger piloted the Steelers 51 yards for the winning score, a one-yard run from Isaac Redman, a 6-foot, 230-pound mauler.

And so, with 4:02 left, Manning and the Giants shockingly went three-and-out again.

The Steelers picked up two first downs and ran out the clock.

For the Giants, then: three fourth-quarter possessions, three three-and-outs, and a combined minus-eight yards of offence.

Holy cow.

“We’re not doing real well on third down, and we’re not keeping the ball and sustaining drives,” Manning said. “Today the passing game wasn’t real sharp. Everything’s not as crisp as it needs to be.”

The Giants refused to use the following as an excuse, but their distractions were immense.

Yes, they had the added motivation of vowing to win this game as salve, of sorts, for the millions in New York and New Jersey left battered, soaked or homeless last Monday night by Hurricane Sandy.

Sea water had even poured into some Giants’ players own homes.

But it had to have been hard to focus on football in those circumstances.

“This was a week where we really wanted to step up for the people who were hit by the hurricane, and we didn’t do that. And it’s as simple as that,” New York linebacker Mark Herzlich said. “Instead of putting a smile on their faces for three hours, we kind of let them down.”

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was adamant that the hurricane was not a distraction.

“Has everyone in this part of the world been affected by this tragic storm? Yes. Yes, we have,” he said. “But is that an excuse? No. We are professional football players. The game will go on.”

After playing next Sunday at Cincinnati, the Giants finally get their bye week. Sounds like they can use it.

As for the Steelers …

On offence, Redman was a he-man, rushing for 147 yards on 26 carries. After starting the season abysmally on the ground, the Steelers now have a dangerous ground attack. What a turnaround.

And Roethlisberger continued to show why he’s rightfully included among the game’s elite signal-callers. He was 21-of-30 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Solid.

And that Steelers defence. It probably will be a long, long time before Ahmad Bradshaw is held to 48 yards and Manning to 125 yards passing in the same game.

Any team that can do THAT to the Giants has the potential to play a long way into January. Or even into February.

 

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/

 


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