After Further Review: Ben is back

It had been one day shy of a year since Ben Roethlisberger had last played quarterback for the Steelers, but it took him less than two minutes to apply an exclamation point upon his return.

The two-minute drill Roethlisberger executed late in the second quarter on Monday night at MetLife Stadium provided a lead the Steelers would never relinquish in what became a 26-16, season-opening victory over the New York Giants.

It also confirmed Roethlisberger was indeed all the way back.

"I was telling (wide receiver) Diontae (Johnson), 'Man, it feels so much different,'" wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster gushed. "Us being out there right before the half, having two minutes to go down and put points on the board, we felt like, 'OK, that's Ben, that's the Ben we know.'"

The Steelers took possession at their 22-yard line trailing 10-9 with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger completed five of seven passes for 67 yards and scrambled for 11 more on what became an eight-play, 78-yard march in 1:25 for the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 16-10 lead.

"The guys were protecting up front," Roethlisberger said. "My job is just to get the ball out of my hand as fast as I can and get it to the play-makers.

"Just disappointed we didn't do it at the beginning of the second half."

The Steelers opened the third quarter with a possession that ended on a punt.

But the next two times they got the ball they scored a combined 10 points for a 26-10 advantage.

WHAT THEY'RE AFTER: The two-minute drive at the end of the second quarter ended on a slant to wide receiver James Washington. He caught the ball at the Giants' 10-yard line, dove into safeties Julian Love and Adrian Colbert at the 2 and eventually powered through Love for the touchdown.

"That's a guy that's got a nose for the end zone," head coach Mike Tomlin assessed. "Hopefully, that can be reflective of all our guys. Just in that moment, that's a guy rising up and making a necessary play and doing what he has to do to deliver for his teammates.

"The strength of us is displayed in individual efforts like that one."

EFFORT PLAY, PART II: Smith-Schuster finished with six catches on six targets, two for touchdowns. But he also came up with a critical recovery after running back Benny Snell fumbled two plays after defensive tackle Cam Heyward's interception had ended a 19-play Giants drive with the Steelers up, 16-10., in the third quarter.

Snell was otherwise stellar with 113 rushing yards and a blitz pick-up on what became a touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster.

But a turnover there might have been game-changing.

Somehow, Smith-Schuster gained and retained possession at the bottom of a pile of Giants.

"Oh, man, in that pile all you're hearing is my teammates 'watch the ball, watch the ball,'" Smith-Schuster said. "I was the first one there and everyone was on me and all I could feel was people just punching.

"My left knee was about to bend and my finger was just like twisting the opposite way. I had the ball on my right rib and all I could do was apply pressure on it to keep it there. I kept it there long enough so the refs saw that I had the ball.

"That's huge for us."

BIG PICTURE: The productive opening night was significant for Smith-Schuster, who is after a bounce-back season following a difficult 2019.

"It means a lot, man, it means a lot to me," he said. "It's personal for me."

It was an even bigger deal that the Steelers emerged victorious.

"I had a couple big plays here and there but it's more so about the whole team," Smith-Schuster added. "It takes all of us, you know? Ben told us that we can be great individuals but if we work all together and we're good we can be great as a team.

"That's what we showcased tonight."

WHATEVER IT TAKES: The defense was relentless in holding Giants running back Saquon Barkley to 6 rushing yards on 15 carries and producing splash represented by 11 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two takeaways.

But outside linebacker T.J. Watt was, likewise, resourceful on what became an interception in the second quarter.

"I was flat-footed trying to play the run," Watt said. "As I was transitioning to my pass rush, I saw the quarterback kinda looking my way so I kinda dropped back instead of rushing.

"The ball came my way and I picked it off."

Watt finished with one tackle.

Those were hard to come by.

"It was almost whoever could get there first," he said. "By the time you got to the ball it seemed like there were already three guys who got there before you."

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