If this is going to be a December to remember for the Steelers, let us not forget that it started with a couple of old heads making plays like young bucks.
It started with James Harrison, the 38-year-old who recaptured his starting job at outside linebacker, drawing a holding penalty in the end zone to negate a third-down conversion and instead force a safety.
It continued with Lawrence Timmons, the 10th-year inside linebacker, making a leaping interception and a 58-yard return before age caught up with him.
“It was the biggest play to that point,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “But, you know, you're going to have big plays in big moment as we get into December football. That's what it's about. It's about making those signature plays this time of year to get you out of the stadium.
“And that was a big one.”
The Steelers got out of Heinz Field Sunday with a 24-14 victory over the New York Giants, thanks in part to the leadership of Harrison and Timmons and a defense that has been the catalyst in three consecutive victories since self-destructing against Dallas.
It was after that loss, in which the Steelers gave up the game-winning touchdown in the final minute, that Harrison termed them “terrible.”
It also was when the Steelers lost their defensive captain, Cameron Heyward, to a season-ending injury. Harrison and Timmons haven't allowed there to be a leadership void on a defense that starts three rookies.
“It's great to see both of them playing like that,” inside linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “A lot of us took that Dallas loss really hard. ...
“It means a lot because it set the tempo and let guys know that this is how we need to play. They've been doing this for years. The younger guys get to see that they can do it also. Guys are just feeding off their energy.”
When Giants second-year tackle Ereck Flowers held Harrison's helmet, it gave the Steelers a 2-0 lead with 3:04 left in the first quarter. They immediately got the ball back and added a 44-yard field goal by Randy Bullock for a 5-0 lead before the quarter ended.
The Giants were poised to take the lead as Eli Manning led a drive from the New York 29 to the Steelers' 9. On second-and-4, he dropped back and targeted tight end Larry Donnell. But Timmons read the play perfectly, picked it off and thought he was headed for the end zone.
“I wish I was 25,” Timmons said. “I would have scored. I thought I had nice form at first, but then (age) 30 caught up to me.”
So did Harrison, who wondered whether Timmons could recreate his unforgettable 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII.
“I actually thought he was going to make it until I was catching up with him,” Harrison said. “Then I thought, ‘He ain't going to make it. I shouldn't be catching up with him.' ”
If age is catching up to Harrison and Timmons, they are fighting the good fight and inspiring their teammates in the process.
Harrison had three tackles, a sack for a 9-yard loss and a hurry. Timmons finished with seven tackles, the interception and a hurry on a fourth-and-1 at the Steelers' 3 on a pass Shazier broke up at the goal line. It was one of three fourth-down stops.
This time, Harrison termed the defense a “work in progress.” The Steelers are taking steps each week, young bucks led by old heads who continue to make plays and keep the team in playoff contention.