New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning turned to old friend Victor Cruz, the team’s newest multimillion dollar receiver, on a 57-yard touchdown reception that snapped a 3-3 first quarter deadlock and put the Giants in the lead for good over the Pittsburgh Steelers, who fell to the Giants 18-13 at Heinz Field.
“My route was the seam and I kind of went up the alley,” said Cruz. “I saw (safety) Troy Polamalu, and I think he was thinking I was going to break off the route so I just went vertical and Eli threw a great pass to me that I was able to take in for the touchdown.”
The Manning-Cruz connection came on the Giants’ second offensive series, after the Steelers had chewed up 6:12 off the clock to tie the score 3-3 on Shaun Suisham’s 34-yard field goal.
Initially, things didn’t look too promising for the Giants offense. On their first possession, they blew a golden opportunity for seven points when, after having the Steelers re-kick the ball following an ineligible man downfield penalty, rookie defensive end Damontre Moore, who had a strong NFL début, blocked Drew Butler’s punt, the loose ball being recovered by Louis Murphy on the Pittsburgh five yard line. However, Manning and company were unable to gain any yards on three tries, and they ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal by new place kicker Josh Brown.
Meanwhile on defense, the Giants’ starters had their share of trouble defending against the run, giving up 45 rushing yards on eight first-quarter carries. The revamped linebacker unit, which consisted of starters Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich, and Keith Rivers in particular, had their share of trouble with gap control and getting off blocks to plug the running lanes in the middle of the field.
“The first half, they had a couple drives on us, they knocked some first downs out, they recovered from like a 3rd and 15, which always bothers me,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin in a halftime television interview.
The Steelers cut the Giants’ lead to 10-6 in the second quarter following Suisham’s 41-yard field goal, but the Giants’ second teamers managed to end the half with a ten-play, 68-yard drive engineered by quarterback David Carr which ended with a 30-yard field goal by Brown to give New York the 13-6 lead at the half. More importantly, though, the defense, which mixed in some second stringers with the starters, settled down a bit more as rookies Moore and Johnathan Hankins had solid showings.
In the second half, the Giants came up with a safety in the third quarter thanks to a fumble by quarterback Landry Jones that safety Tyler Sash alertly pounced on in the end zone, a play that increased the Giants’ lead to 15-6, the only points in the quarter.
The Steelers pulled to within two points when Giants rookie quarterback Ryan Nassib, making his NFL début, saw a tough series that featured two penalties and a sack end with a shotgun snap from center Matt McCants sailing over his head and being recovered by Steelers linebacker Adrian Robinson in the end zone for the touchdown.
The Giants added the game’s final points on a 47-yard field goal by Brown, who earlier in the game had missed a 38-yard attempt wide left.
Although it was far from a perfect outing, there were some bright spots for the Giants. New York’s offensive as a whole ended up outgaining Pittsburgh by 5.5 yards per play to the Steelers’ 3.3 yards per play. The giants also had just three penalties to the Steelers’ seven, and after being dominated in the time of possession battle, they almost pulled even with the Steelers, 29:25 to 30:35.
Individually, the Giants received solid outings from their youngsters. In addition to Moore, whose four total tackles don’t begin to tell the story of the impact he had on the game when he was in there, seventh rounder Michael Cox led his team in rushing with nine carries for 33 yards.
Receiver Jerrel Jernigan had a solid night as both a receiver (two catches for 28 yards) and on the team’s lone kickoff return, a 27-yarder on which he showed good vision and acceleration in navigating through traffic.
On defense, Paysinger, who continues to hold off Jacquian Williams, finished as the team leader with five total tackles while safety Tyler Sash, whom many had written off after the team drafted Cooper Taylor this year and signed free agent Ryan Mundy, had perhaps the best game of his short NFL career, finishing with four solo tackles that included two tackles for a loss and one pass defense.
And then there were some issues that certainly didn’t please Coughlin such as two lost fumbles, the one by Nassib and one by running André Brown, who failed to secure a pitch before starting upfield; a 38% third-down efficiency; and, of course, the run defense in the first quarter.
The Giants, who return to training camp on Monday, also suffered a couple of injuries the most serious being the broken leg suffered by receiver Kris Adams, a second-year player out of Texas-El Pas who had been quietly having a solid training camp and who looked to have an inside track on earning a spot on the practice squad, suffered a season-ending broken leg injury when his foot appeared to get stuck in the turf.
Also suffering an injury was offensive lineman Chris DeGeare, who had worked mostly with the third team offensive line. DeGeare had his leg was rolled up on by teammate Jim Cordle and while X-rays on his ankle were negative, Coughlin said he thought that DeGeare suffered a MCL injury.