Steelers vs. Giants: Pittsburgh Wins on Emotional Night in Wake of Sandy
I experience an emotional roller coaster ride every time I watch a Pittsburgh Steelers game.
Sometimes, though, the viewing experience turns into an unforgettable night.
With Hurricane Sandy as a backdrop, the Steelers' 24-20 win over the New York Giants on Sunday was one of those nights.
I haven't experienced a night like Sunday since the Steelers' win over the Jets in the 2010 AFC Championship game. On that night, I watched at Steelers bar Irish Exit in Manhattan. "The Steelers Polka," "Here We Go," "Renegade" and "Black and Yellow" played. It was about as loud as a concert in there when the Steelers won and earned a trip to their eighth Super Bowl.
The only game that came close last season was the Steelers' Thursday-night win over the Browns, which I also watched at a packed Irish Exit. The emotional charge in that game came when Ben Roethlisberger returned to the game in the second half after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the first half.
Come on, though. That was the Browns.
The Giants are a more formidable foe than the Browns, and I don't even have to say that Hurricane Sandy is a bigger disaster than just about anything that happens to Roethlisberger's body.
I watched Sunday's game at Danny's, a Steelers bar in Red Bank, N.J. Like many municipalities in New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, about half of Red Bank is without power.
Under normal circumstances, Danny's might have been slow for a Steelers Sunday. A lot of the Steelers regulars might have stayed home to watch the game, which was on CBS in New Jersey because it involved the Giants.
Instead, Danny's was filled with Steelers fans and Giants fans, many of whom still don't have electricity in their homes and needed to go out to watch this game.
Put me in that category.
There wasn't a sense of conflict between Steelers and Giants fans at Danny's but rather a sense of community. People hit by Hurricane Sandy came together to watch football.
In the first half, I was reminded of another Steelers viewing experience, and I felt the same frustration I felt when I watched Super Bowl XLV at Irish Exit.
It seemed referee Bill Leavy was trying to repent for the sins he was accused of during Super Bowl XL.
The Giants tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter with a zebra-aided 72-yard drive.
Keenan Lewis was called for pass interference for giving Hakeem Nicks a "love tap" on the shoulder, giving the Giants the ball on the Steelers' 20.
Then on 3rd-and-2 from the Steelers' 2-yard line, Eli Manning threw an incomplete pass to Victor Cruz, but Ryan Clark was called for a personal foul on an obvious shoulder-to-shoulder hit.
One play later, Andre Brown scored the game-tying touchdown from a yard out.
On the Steelers' next drive, Roethlisberger's arm clearly was coming forward when the ball came loose. Michael Boley picked it up and ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
The play was upheld after review. A incomplete pass was ruled a fumble, and the officials pulled off a maddening hat trick of second-quarter incompetence.
The Steelers' 14-7 deficit grew to 20-10 after three quarters. On top of the futility I felt because the Steelers were losing, I couldn't help but feel the officials were trying to stick to a script and give this game to the Giants.
There are a lot of Steelers fans in New York and New Jersey, too.
The Steelers (5-3) didn't need much help to come back from a 10-point deficit and beat the defending Super Bowl champions.
They weren't going get much help from their reigning team MVP, either.
Antonio Brown twisted his ankle early in the game and did not return.
The Steelers, still down 20-10, faced 3rd-and-5 from their own 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Just when I was thinking that the Steelers could use Brown, who's rescued them so many times on the third down, Roethlisberger threw a short pass to Mike Wallace on a crossing pattern, and Wallace's speed took over.
He went 51 yards for the touchdown to cut the Giants' lead to 20-17.
The Steelers got the ball back quickly because their defense didn't allow a first down in the fourth quarter.
Emmanuel Sanders, forced into punt-return duty because of injuries to Brown, and rookie Chris Rainey ran Steve Weatherford's punt to the Giants' 12-yard line.
The return yielded no points for the Steelers, though, because Mike Tomlin decided to make an even worse call than any official in this game. On 4th-and-1 from the 3-yard line, the Steelers lined up for a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game.
Instead, they faked the field goal. Holder Drew Butler flipped the ball over his shoulder to kicker Shaun Suisham, who was swallowed up by blue jerseys.
Thanks to the defense, the Steelers had another chance to tie the game when they drove to the Giants' 14 with five minutes, 26 seconds left. It looked like the Steelers could do nothing more than tie the game when Isaac Redman was stopped two yards short on 3rd-and-7.
Then my faith in NFL officiating was restored when the Giants were called for offsides, which presented the Steelers with a much easier task on 3rd-and-2.
Redman, who ran for 147 yards on 26 carries, covered the remaining nine yards to the end zone with an eight-yard run and a one-yard touchdown run, giving the Steelers a 24-20 lead with just over four minutes remaining.
The Steelers' four-point lead was anything but safe, however, when Manning and his two Super Bowl rings had four minutes and all his timeouts to cover 88 yards.
"Eli only needs two minutes," shouted some female voice from the Giants peanut gallery in this Steelers bar.
Eli didn't even get one minute.
The Giants were forced to punt when LaMarr Woodley sacked Manning on third down.
It sure was nice to see Woodley make an impact after thinking I wouldn't see him again. When Jason Worilds took his place in the first half, I thought Woodley's hamstring put him out of another game, which would have been almost as sobering as Troy Polamalu's prolonged absence.
Not until that last drive did CBS show the obligatory sideline shot of Polamalu in street clothes. It's usually very early in the game when Steelers fans are subjected to the painful reminder that the defense just isn't the same without Polamalu.
On Sunday, Polamalu's face time was almost an afterthought. That's fitting considering the Steelers seem to be moving past the point of being doomed without Polamalu.
The void left by Polamalu has prevented the Steelers from protecting fourth-quarter leads so many times in the past. On Sunday, however, it was the Giants blowing a fourth-quarter lead, and the Steelers defense didn't need Polamalu to keep the deficit at 10 while the offense and special teams did their work.
It's hard to think of another time when the Steelers better typified Tomlin's "the standard is the standard" motto.
To really close out this victory, the Steelers needed a few more first downs to keep the ball out of the hands of baby-faced assassin Eli Manning.
On 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers' 29-yard line, Sanders caught a 16-yard pass from Roethlisberger, forcing the Giants to spend their final timeout with two minutes, 23 seconds left.
Brown would have been proud.
All the Steelers had to do was take a knee after Redman gained 28 yards to run the clock down to the two-minute warning.
Jonathan Dwyer would have been proud.
Rashard Mendenhall would have been proud.
Hell, Jerome Bettis would have been proud.
Steelers fans would have been proud, too.
Not only have the Steelers defeated a defending Super Bowl champion for the first time since beating the Ravens in 2001, but they took part in on-field ceremonies paying tribute to the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.
Tomlin and Roethlisberger were among the many to help hold a giant American flag that covered the entire field at MetLife Stadium.
Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the New York Marathon and the NBA season-opener between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.
But the Steelers and Giants played with support from around the East Coast.
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