By Steve Serby
December 5, 2016
PITTSBURGH — This was a Steel Hurtin’ all right, a day when those two Super Bowl championships seemed like distant memories, a day when Giants fans would have traded Eli Manning for Ben Roethlisberger in a Big Apple minute.
This was a test of their mettle, and Manning and the 8-4 Giants, 24-14 losers, were anything but iron men with iron wills.
This was a jolting, jarring slap in the face, the first blast of December football that left the Giants’ six-game winning streak strewn across Heinz Field, a sobering and humbling reminder that the road to the playoffs is littered with desperate teams fighting every bit as fiercely as they are for January football.
Bring on the Cowboys?
These aren’t the Steel Curtain Steelers of yesteryear, with “Mean” Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood and Jack Lambert and that crew, but on a day when the Giants needed Manning to lift them, carry them past Big Ben and keep the NFC East title dream alive, he looked as if he were seeing ghosts.
Manning threw two interceptions, including the critical mistake from which the Giants could not recover.
Victor Cruz shouldn’t have bothered making the trip. He was targeted the same number of times as Amani Toomer.
Manning was 9 yards away from taking the lead in the second quarter when he looked for Larry Donnell, of all people, in the end zone.
And didn’t get enough air under it.
And found Lawrence Timmons at the 2 instead.
And Timmons returned the gift interception 58 yards to the Giants’ 40.
Three plays later, Roethlisberger escaped the pocket to his right and hit Antonio Brown with the 22-yard TD pass against Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins that made it Steelers 11, Giants 0.
“I tried to squeeze it in there,” Manning said. “I thought I could get it high enough to Larry Donnell and kinda put it on that back shoulder a little. Lawrence got a little wider than I thought and thought I could get it there. Obviously any interception’s a bad decision, so it obviously hurts when it takes away points.”
It was an uphill climb the rest of the way, and Manning couldn’t climb it.
Maybe you can beat the Browns scoring seven points in 59 minutes.
Not the Steelers.
And certainly not the Cowboys.
And if Ben McAdoo doesn’t fix it quick, the Giants will be in big wild-card trouble.
“We need to be more efficient,” McAdoo said.
Manning was 1 yard from a first down and 3 yards from a touchdown midway through the third quarter when, after all the inefficiency and listlessness and disjointedness, he had finally begun targeting Odell Beckham Jr. and connecting with him and from the shotgun, forced an incompletion under duress over the middle to tight end Will Tye, who was blanketed by Ryan Shazier, when running back Paul Perkins was virtually free in the left flat and a better option.
“Had pressure right up the middle, and tried to hit to Will quickly,” Manning said. “Good defensive call by them.”
The Giants defense soon gifted Manning the ball at the Pittsburgh 17 when Damon “Snacks” Harrison stripped Le’Veon Bell and Eli Apple recovered. Two plays later, Manning faked an end-around to Beckham and tossed a screen right to Rashad Jennings for the 13-yard touchdown that made it Steelers 14, Giants 7 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter.
But Big Ben immediately answered the bell when Landon Collins lost tight end Ladarius Green on the 20-yard TD pass that made it Steelers 21, Giants 7.
Apple then gifted Manning the ball with an interception at the Giants’ 47, but on fourth-and-13, as Manning scrambled out of the pocket to his right, he threw across his body, an underthrow for Sterling Shepard, who was open early, that was intercepted by Sean Davis.
“If he could have got a little more mustard on the ball, we had a chance for a big play, but it’s tough running to the right and throwing back across your body,” McAdoo said.
He later missed an open Shepard from the Pittsburgh 24. The Giants cannot win big games with Manning’s downfield game in disrepair, if he is able to complete one pass — on one target — to Beckham for 10 yards in the first half, and forgetting Cruz was back on the team. He targeted Beckham 17 times in the second half.
“It really came down to those red-zone trips where we got no points off,” Manning said.
There is no margin for these errors by Manning on another day when he has no running game and finds himself down 2-0 thanks to an end-zone holding penalty on offensive lineman Ereck Flowers.
By the time it was Steelers 14, Giants 0 at intermission, Manning had completed nine passes, and six of them were to Jennings and Tye.
The defense, which has been burdened all season with covering for the offense, was Ben And Break early. Late in the first half, when Roethlisberger needed 17 yards on third down, he flipped a middle screen to Eli Rogers and got 18 to position Randy Bullock for a chippie field goal.
Manning struggled with the deep ball in Cleveland and this was more of the same right from the gitgo. A prayer for tight end Jerrell Adams wasn’t answered and interference was called on a disbelieving Beckham.
“You never know when we can break out,” Manning said.
They’ve been saying that from the start of the season.
“We just gotta do a better job to help our defense out,” Beckham said.
Bring on the Cowboys?
“It’s a big game, and we gotta win this one,” Manning said.
If he doesn’t play better than this, if he doesn’t play better than Dak Prescott, if he doesn’t start getting his team in the end zone, they won’t.
FILED UNDER BEN MCADOO , BEN ROETHLISBERGER , DALLAS COWBOYS , ELI MANNING , JANORIS JENKINS , NEW YORK GIANTS , VICTOR CRUZ