The Pittsburgh Steelers unveiled their new-look roster for the 2014 season tonight against the New York Giants in the first football game in far too long. There’s a bit of a damper on the proceedings with heralded rookie first-rounder Ryan Shazier out for the game, but nothing can take away the feelgoodness of Sean Spence’s first game in almost two years, who started in the rookie’s place at inside linebacker.
The Giants received the ball first, and Howard Jones helped bring down the returner prior to the 20-yard line. Eli Manning tried to find Jerrel Jernigan on first down, but the pair couldn’t hook up. Spence was able to take down the back on second down for a short gain. Rookie Stephon Tuitt was caught by a hard count on third down to set up third down and two, but nothing was open for Manning on the play and the Giants were forced to punt.
Dri Archer was back to return the punt, but he could only call for a fair catch. Ben Roethlisberger took over from his own 23 and handed it off to Le’Veon Bell on first down, who broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage to gain nine. On second and one, Bell easily and patiently hit his hole for another nice gain of eight yards for the first first down of the game.
The Steelers went five wide on first down and Roethlisberger looked to Archer out of the slot, who took the screen and followed a serpentine path for a gain of 46. LeGarrette Blount took the ball to the 10-yard line after a five-yard pickup on the ensuing first down. After a gain of one by Blount, Roethlisberger could not hook up on a fade to Lance Moore for the score with tight coverage by Walter Thurmond III. Shaun Suisham gave the Steelers a 3-0 lead.
Suisham’s second kickoff was (presumably) deliberately short, but allowed the Giants to set themselves up in respectable field position after a three-and-out. Rashad Jennings burst through a hole in the middle of the defense on first down for the long touchdown. Mike Tomlin was not happy. Cameron Heyward was sealed, and Lawrence Timmons appeared to have gotten held on the 73-yard run.
Archer’s first attempt at a kick return had to be delayed, as the kick went out of bounds. Bruce Gradkowski took over for Roethlisberger after the opening scoring drive. Bell gained just one on first down. Gradkowski hooked up with Antonio Brown for a short gain of four to set up third and five. A defensive holding call gave the Steelers a first down.
Markus Wheaton took an end around on first down and gained a healthy chunk of yards, but Ramon Foster was injured on the play. Chris Hubbard entered the game to replace him. Foster appeared to have bee hit in the eye. On first down, Gradkowski found Brown down the field while getting hit resulting in a gain of 16.
Blount worked up the middle for a gain of about three to the Giants’ 40 on the ensuing first down. Heath Miller slipped out for the pass on second down, but safety Antrel Rolle saw the play and blew up the tight end for a loss of one. on third and eight, Gradkowski hit Bell for six, short of the first. Brad Wing‘s punt from the 35 bounced within the five but bounced back out to the 12 before being downed.
Jarvis Jones sacked Manning for a loss of eight on first down to set up second and 18 from their own four for the Giants. Tuitt was in on a tackle with Jason Worilds after a gain of three, yielding way to a third and 15. A draw picked up five to set up breathing room for a punt.
Archer’s second punt return resulted in no gain after he was plastered by the long snapper. Shaquille Richardson helped shield the initial gunner that allowed Archer to return it at all.
From the 49, Tauren Poole slipped on the first-down carry, but an illegal use of hands penalty on Jason Pierre-Paul gave the Steelers a first down. Mike Adams was in at left tackle, along with the rest of the second-team offensive line. Poole’s first official carry went for one yard along the right side. His second carry gained four to set up a third and five, which was a Gradkowski scramble for a first down that was taken back due to a holding call on Bryant Browning. After a throw away following pressure, Wing’s second punt was fair caught at the 24. A penalty on Spence moved the ball up to the 29.
With Manning still in, Jennings was wrestled down by Timmons and Cam Thomas after a short gain. Andre Williams was wrestled down again by Spence, but the Giants were penalized for holding anyway. On second and 18, Manning handed off to Williams on a draw, picking up a big gain, but another holding call brought the ball back to set up a second and 23. A false start made it second and 28. Mike Mitchell delivered a big hit at the end of a nine-yard gain. On third and 19, another draw came up well short of a first down.
Archer’s third return attempt moved laterally a decent bit, but forward just three yards after a deep punt. From the 15, Gradkowski was dropped on a safety blitz for a loss of five. Jordan Hall was dropped for no gain to set up third and 15. Gradkowski’s pass to Archer was caught, but for just four yards. Wing’s punt took an awful bounce forward that resulted in a net of just 21.
Terence Garvin brought down Williams on first down after a short gain. Shamarko Thomas came up nicely to fill the hole and make the tackle on second down to set up third and two. Ryan Nassib got hit has he threw on third down, resulting in a 45-yard field goal to being the score to 10-3.
The Giants’ second kickoff went through the end zone, so no return for Archer. Justin Brown reached behind him to haul in a five-yard pass from Gradkowski to the 25-yard line. on second and five, Gradkowski went deep, and Zack Bowman was flagged for illegal contact on the play. Poole found some room around the edge for seven yards to set up second and three. Hall’s two-yard tote up the middle set up third and one. Poole had no trouble converting for the Steelers’ first successful third down of the night.
After a short completion to Hall, Gradkowski and Brown could not connect, with the quarterback looking for the receiver to continue his route deeper downfield. An neutral zone infraction set up third and two, on which the quarterback was able to find Wheaton down the field for 28 yards. From the 22, Gradkowski handed off to Poole for two. Will Johnson let a slightly high pass go off his fingers, but it fell incomplete. On third and long, Gradkowski overthrew Matt Spaeth for a sure touchdown. Suisham’s field goal attempt was just right.
On second down, Arthur Moats dragged down the receiver a yard shy of the first down. Fullback John Conner converted on the next play. Robert Golden brought down the tight end after a gain of nine. On second and one, Nassib converted for another new set of downs and a two-minute warning.
Vince Williams brought down the running back Williams on first down after a gain of one. Thomas brought down the receiver to set up third down with 1:19 to play in the half. The Steelers showed blitz but Nassib hit Rueben Randle for 13. In the no huddle, Nassib went back to Randle, but the receiver couldn’t hold on to the quick pass. From the 28, Chris Carter beat the left tackle around the edge to force Nassib down, throwing an incompletion. On third down, the quarterback looked for his tight end down the seam, but couldn’t get extended. Garvin was in on the coverage. Another field goal extended the Giant’s halftime lead to 13-3.
Archer’s final return attempt before the half resulted in a kneel down for a touchback. He picked up for about eight yards on two handoffs out of the backfield to close the half.