There was one overriding reason Ben Roethlisberger worked so hard to return from a major elbow injury.
Roethlisberger, who missed the final 14 games last season after elbow surgery, threw for three scores and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants 26-16 at an empty and eerie MetLife Stadium on Monday night. He also got all the help he could ask for from his defence and backup running back Bennie Snell.
A key part of it, along with several defensive plays and Snell’s 113 yards on 19 carries — his first 100-yard performance in his second NFL season.
“We have talked openly about the maturation process and things you can expect from a second-year player,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “and he’s showed signs of that from the very beginning of this process. He is a quality player and one that is maturing and emerging, and one who answered the bell when called upon.”
The defence, while not quite on the level of the famed Steel Curtain, was plenty stingy and physical. It not only held Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries, it also swarmed him in the backfield nearly all night.
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Three Steelers stars got them their first touchdown. All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt made a clever interception at the New York 36. Roethlisberger beat a blitz with a perfect throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard second-quarter score. Chris Boswell’s extra point hit the upright, leaving them behind 10-9.
They got the lead with 7 seconds remaining in the half as Roethlisberger connected with James Washington, who dived into the end zone for a 13-yard score. Boswell made the PAT this time, and added a 36-yard field goal early in the final quarter. That came following the night’s biggest play.
Even though the Pittsburgh defence broke down as the Giants marched 87 yards on 19 plays in just under nine minutes in the third quarter, it still came up with a major stop. Bud Dupree pressured quarterback Daniel Jones as he rolled left from the 4 and deflected his pass. Edge rusher Cam Heyward practically made a fair catch in the end zone for the interception.
“I want to make a play for my team. I saw Bud laying him down,” Heyward said. “I tried to make a good play and float to the ball.
“We got to be an opportunistic defence. We got sacks by guys who don’t usually get sacks and interceptions by guys who don’t usually get interceptions.”
Roethlisberger then took Pittsburgh 62 yards for the field goal and a 19-10 lead. He hit Smith-Schuster again for a 10-yard touchdown and a 26-10 lead before New York got a late TD.
Roethlisberger finished 21 of 32 for 229 yards has now thrown for 366 touchdowns, a franchise record, tying Eli Manning for the eighth most in NFL history.
Canada’s Claypool off the mark
Steelers rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool of Abbotsford, B.C., made his professional debut, recording 39 yards on two receptions, adding eight yards on one carry.
Claypool’s first involvement came late in the first quarter when the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder kept both feet in bounds for a skilful 28-yard catch near the sideline.
Look at that toe-tap‼️<a href=”https://twitter.com/_BigBen7?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@_BigBen7</a> to <a href=”https://twitter.com/ChaseClaypool?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ChaseClaypool</a><br><br>📺 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/PITvsNYG?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#PITvsNYG</a> on ESPN <a href=”https://t.co/gBaJsfURcv”>pic.twitter.com/gBaJsfURcv</a>
Not unexpectedly, sloppy play was the order of the evening early on. New York had a dropped pass by Evan Engram and a delay-of-game penalty on fourth-and-1.
The first time a Steeler touched the ball this season, it was a muff by punt returner Diontae Johnson deep in Pittsburgh territory. Oshane Ximines recovered at the 3, but New York only managed a 21-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
There were three drops and the muff in the first half of the opening period, and neither team could run the ball successfully in Joe Judge’s debut as Giants coach.
Slayton caught a 7-yard TD pass with 1:52 remaining in the game. and had six receptions for 102 yards.
Nineteen of the Giants’ 48 active players kneeled during the national anthem, mostly defensive players. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson was on a knee with a hand across his heart.
The Steelers stood side by side while a group of players held a white banner with the words “Steelers Against Racism.” Only tight end Eric Ebron raised his arm.
The Steelers remained in their locker room and the Giants stood in an end zone some 25 minutes earlier when the Black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was played.