GIANTS 20, STEELERS 16
Steelers' record: 0-1
One year ago: 0-1
Preseason series record: Giants lead, 14-13
Highlight photos from the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. The Giants defeated the Steelers 20-16.
It wasn't a must-win situation, because these games don't count in the standings. But this preseason opener couldn't be termed meaningless, because the 2014 Steelers still are in the formative stage, and one of the characteristics every team seeks to develop is the ability to find ways to win games. The roster turnover meant many of the guys in uniform either were new to the NFL, new to the Steelers, or new to the roles they are expected to fill for this team.
"We'd like to keep penalties to a minimum. We'd like to play assignment, clean football but at this stage of the journey we'll see where we are in that regard," said Coach Mile Tomlin a couple of days before the game. "But I think what's paramount is that we play fast and we play hard and we play with urgency."
Last summer, the Steelers were winless in the preseason, with the defeats coming to the Giants by 18-13, to the Redskins by 24-13, to the Chiefs by 26-20 in overtime, and to the Panthers by 25-10. Then what followed was an 0-4 start to the regular season that became 2-6 at the midway point of a season that ended with the Steelers just outside the playoff field.
While there is no scientific proof that winning preseason games is the simple solution to getting off to a fast start during the regular season, the learning-how-to-win-together trait is a critical one to be developed, and sooner has to be better than later.
"We're excited about taking the next step in overall team development, which is playing in a stadium versus an opponent in the New York Giants," Tomlin had said. "It's a significant step for us, and what we're looking for in this first time out is quite simple. I want the group to play fast; I want them to play with the urgency that's required to play winning football in a stadium setting. I'm looking for that."
Allowing big plays was a problem for the Steelers defense throughout 2013, and so it was again early in this preseason opener. After kicking off to open the game, the Steelers defense posted a three-and-out, and Ben Roethlisberger followed by directing the offense on a seven-play, 70-yard drive ending with a 26-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham for a 3-0 lead. On the first offensive play following then kickoff, Rashad Jennings broke up the middle and raced 73 yards for a touchdown that gave the Giants a 7-3 lead. The Steelers defense allowed only 60 yards in the entire first half besides that one run. On the long run, defensive end Cam Heyward slanted the wrong way to create the initial gap that Jenning exploited.
"We just had a guy get out of his gap," said safety Mike Mitchell. "We have to continue to work it, be more disciplined and work our run defense. It's preseason game one. As we continue to grow and develop and gel as a unit, we'll cut down on those mistakes. Guys will continue to be in their gaps. One thing as a safety, we can all take better angles in tackling."
STAT THAT STANDS OUT I
The Steelers record the outcome of preseason games dating back to 1965, and in that span the team has had four winless preseasons – 1965, 1987, 2006, and 2013.
The 1965 team was reeling from the firing of Coach Buddy Parker and would end up 2-12 under Mike Nixon; the 1987 team finished 8-7 during a season in which replacement players filled in for three games during a strike by the union; the 2006 team was experiencing a Super Bowl hangover; and the 2013 team came on to post the league's best second-half record only to fall just short of making the playoffs.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
On the flip side of the franchise's history following winless preseasons, there have been three undefeated preseasons in Steelers' history. In 1974, the team finishing 6-0 in a preseason that contained a players' strike went on to win Super Bowl IX; the 1982 team followed its undefeated preseason with a win at Dallas in the opener and then another in overtime against the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals before a players' strike wiped out the next two months of a regular season that ended with the Steelers losing a home playoff game to San Diego; and the 1997 team used an undefeated preseason to transition to Kordell Stewart at quarterback on the way to losing in the AFC Championship Game to Denver at Three Rivers Stadium.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT III**
In the 13 preseason games throughout the NFL prior to Saturday night's slate, officials had called a combined 44 defensive holding penalties and 21 illegal contact penalties.
In his final news conference before the team left for New Jersey from Saint Vincent College, Coach Mike Tomlin referred to six players as questionable to participate in the preseason opener: Rob Blanchflower (ankle), Jarvis Jones (groin), Jordan Zumwalt (groin), Steve McLendon (concussion), Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion), and Ryan Shazier (knee).
Of those six, Blanchflower, Zumwalt, and Jones participated in the final padded practice before the game, while McLendon, Heyward-Bey, and Shazier did not. Those three players who didn't practice, plus Michael Palmer, were ruled out before the opening kickoff.
Ramon Foster left the game after getting poked in the eye in the first quarter. Foster did not return, but that had more to do with the number of plays he was allotted for this game as opposed to any debilitating effects of the injury.