Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2008 Giants @ Steelers

Week 8

The Setup

Games are won and lost in so many ways in the NFL.  Most of the time it has to do with the major factors, ie:  Descrepancies in talent, descrepancies in coaching, and which team executes their game plan better and doesn't get hit with penalties/or turnovers.  In probably 90% of the games played between teams, those factors decide who gets the W and who gets the L.

Now, there are some other factors along the way that do come into play, namely injuries.  If the QB goes down during a game, more often than not, the backup QB has a difficult time running the team because they simply do not get the reps in practices, which impacts the entire offensive scheme.  Defenses will cheat up to shut down the run, forcing passes when it's likely obvious that the QB and receivers are not on the same page.  And this can be seen on most other positions on offense and defense, if a starter/impact player other than QB goes down, teams will go after their replacement to test them out, particularly if they are a cornerback and can be put on an island, so to speak.

While the NFL is a "next man up" mentality, sometimes, in some rare cases, there is no next man to go to.  And this falls in one specific area...specialists on special teams.  For the most part, cover men and blockers on special teams tend to be from the back end of the roster, backup WRs, DBs, LBs, etc.  If someone goes down in that group, they are usually pretty easy to replace.  You can swap in any number of other reserves to cover kicks, and even put in a starter if needed.  In the mid 1980s, Lawrence Taylor was a gunner on punts.  

But if you have ever been to a training camp practice or even any NFL game, you will notice that there are 3 positions who are always doing their own thing.  The kicker, punter, and long snapper.  In the summer at training camp, while the rest of the team is running through drills, these 3 guys are usually off on the side running their own drills.  Brad Wing would literally punt a ball high, almost straight up, in the air and stroll about 5 yards forward and catch it...and then do it again.  During the regular season, before the rest of the players come out of the lockerroom, there are always three guys who come out about 5 minutes before the rest...the kicker, punter, and long snapper.

So, what happens if something happens to one of those guys?  Rosters aren't meant to carry backups at those spots.  Years back, teams might carry 2 kickers...a regular kicker and a kickoff specialist.  The Giants did this with Dan Reeves in the mid 1990s when they had David Treadwell as the regular kicker, and Brad Daluiso as the kickoff specialist and Hail Mary 50 yard + deep shots.  Later Jim Fassel did the same with an old Morten Andersen as the main kicker and Owen Pochman as the kickoff specialist.  Well, as they moved around kickoffs and introduced the "k-ball", all in the name to reduce concussions, kickoffs have been on the rise in the NFL, thus eliminating a "kickoff specialist".  The obvious move, if a punter or kicker is hurt, is for whichever one is still healthy, they will fill in that role, even though they are 2 different skill sets, you use your foot, so get out there.  In the 2010 playoff game at Cincinnati, Steve Weatherford was the punter for the Jets.  Weatherford had an issue in the locker room before the game with his heart racing, reaching about 200 beats per minute, so much so that the Jets shut him down and used kicker Jay Feeley as the punter in that game.  In 2003, in a game against the Dolphins, the Giants' kicker, Matt Bryant, injured his hamstring making a 43 yard field goal right before the half, to bring the Giants closer to the Dolphins, trailing 13-10 at the half.  The Giants had to ask Feagles to take over kicking duties, and he would end up missing his only career attempt, a 29 yarder in an eventual Giants 23-10 loss.

So that leaves one guy, the long snapper.  The automatic assumption is that if the long snapper goes down, just put the regular center out there to do it.  But again, it's a totally different technique.  A regular center will use one hand to snap, either back to the QB directly behind him, or in the shotgun around 4 or so yards back.  However, on special teams, on a long snap in a field goal/extra point, the snapper will use hands, with his legs spread far apart (and usually interlocking with the guards next to him) and snap it 7 yards back to the holder who is waiting for it low to the ground in his kneeling position, which then signals to the kicker to begin his part.  Punts are an even more tricky ask.  The long snap needs to go 15 yards back to the punter and hit him in the hands, to keep the timing for the kick and coverage down the field.  This is not an easy thing and it's a specialized skill.  So much so that Zak DeOssie, drafted as a linebacker out of Brown University.  DeOssie never saw the field on defense, and has been exclusively a long snapper for his entire career, which began in 2007, and has included 2 Super Bowls and 2 Pro Bowls for his accurate abilities as a long snapper, and being one of the first men down in coverage.  Zak learned his trade from his father, Steve, a former Cowboy, Patriot, and Jets player, but he made his name with the Giants as a long snapper and linebacker.  Steve DeOssie was the one who snapped the ball back to Jeff Hostetler in the 1990 NFC Championship game on Matt Bahr's 5 field goals, including the game winning 41 yarder at the gun to put the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.

So we've established this is a tough skill to master.  And Giants fans are all too well aware of what happens when your long snapper fails at his basic job, thanks to Trey Junkin in the 2002 Wild Card playoff at San Francisco.  But in that case, Junkin was a long time long snapper, who came out of retirement to join the Giants as he tried to get an elusive Super Bowl ring.  What happens if your long snapper goes down during the game?  In listing the reasons for a team winning and losing, if it is a very even matchup across the board, sometimes it's the smallest detail that will factor in.  In setting up this 2008 matchup between the 5-1 Giants and the 5-1 Steelers.  The Giants were coming off their 2007 World Championship and were establishing themselves as the best team in the NFL.  The Steelers, boasting the top rated defense in the NFL, were playing at home, with their own Super Bowl QB in Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.  It was a matchup between 2 teams who would each finish the season at 12-4, and both would make the playoffs as a high seed (the Giants #1 and Steelers #2).  This matchup would prove to be between the 2007 and eventual 2008 Super Bowl champions.  But it wasn't decided by anyone named Manning or Roethlisberger or Tuck or Polomalu.  It was decided by an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina named Greg Warren and an ugly ACL injury that would decide the winner of the contest.

The Game Highlights

The Steelers would win the toss and deferred to the 2nd half, so the Giants would get the ball first.  Jeff Reed kicked off to Ahmad Bradshaw, who caught the ball about halfway deep in the end zone and took the touchback.  First down at the 20, Eli Manning would begin with a pitch to Brandon Jacobs running to his right, but he was met in the backfield by James Farrior at the 17 yard line for a 3 yard loss.  2nd and 13, Eli in the gun, and with a blitz by Barry Foote coming free, forced a quick pass over the middle to Derrick Ward at the 20 and he would lean to the 21 yard line, hit down by Deshea Townsend.  3rd and 9, Eli in the gun again, would drop back, with time and hit Steve Smith right by the sticks, but he fell down just short at the 29 yard line.  This was actually a bad job by Smith, who cut his route right at the first down marker and when he came back to catch the ball, he was short.  The rule of thumb is to go beyond the marker and come back to catch it, thus ensuring you get the first down.  So it was a 3 and out, Jeff Feagles would come on to punt the ball away and he sent it to Melwelde Moore, who caught it at the 29 and he evaded Kevin Dockery, made his way up the field to the 39 where he was hit down by Chase Blackburn and James Butler.

Now it was Ben Roethlisberger’s turn to take his team out on to the field, and Ben began with a short drop and tried to find an open man, but it was covered, and he held the ball a beat too long as the Giants pass rush engulfed him as he flipped the ball in the direction of Moore over the middle and it fell incomplete.  Meanwhile Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka put Ben on the turf.  2nd and 10, Ben in the gun, and with a little bit of time, threw the ball to TE Heath Miller over the middle at the 45, and he would get a pick block to stop pursuit and he would get around a weak tackle attempt at the 50 by Corey Webster and he took off up the field to the Giants’ 39 yard line, with his legs cut out by Michael Johnson, but good for a 22 yard gain.  First down, Moore took the handoff up the middle, got through the line and looked to break a big gain, but was brought down by Butler and Danny Clark after a 6 yard gain.  On 2nd and 4, the Giants wouldn’t be so lucky

The previous carry, it appeared Moore was going to break away for a TD.  This time a delay to Moore running to his right, and the running back broke a diving tackle attempt by Dockery at his legs near the line of scrimmage, Tuck was knocked to the ground by Miller, and with no linebacker help, the only man with one last chance with Johnson at safety, who didn’t have a good angle at the 20 and missed Moore, and his despiration dive at the 10 yard line wasn’t enough as Moore coasted into the end zone, for a big 32 yard TD and got the Yinzer crowd in a frenzy.  Reed’s extra point would make the score 7-0 with 11:15 to go in the first quarter.  

Reed’s kickoff would go to Bradshaw right at the goal line and he would get a good return, breaking a tackle at the 20 and making it out to the 36 yard line.  The Giants would start their 2nd drive, with Plaxico still on the sidelines thanks to a benching by Coughlin for missing treatments.  Eli would begin in the gun and he would find Dominik Hixon on a comeback route at the 43 yard line, and Hixon would spin inside and evade a couple of Steelers and he would take it to the Steelers 48 yard line, good for a first down.  Jacobs would take the carry running to his left and found a lane and plowed ahead for 5 yards, taken down by Casey Hampton.  2nd and 5, a fake draw to Jacobs, and Eli tried to hit Madison Hedgecock in the flat, but the fall back dropped the ball.  3rd and 5, Eli back in the gun, the Giants set up a quick screen to Ward, and it was executed perfectly as Ward stepped back to the 45, and with Kareem McKenzie and Chris Snee getting out in front, was able to find a big lane and cut inside and make it all the way out to the 24 yard line, hit down by Tyrone Carter.  First down, the ball went to Jacobs, who tried to run to his right, and cut back up the middle for no gain, taken down by Troy Polomalu.  2nd and 10, Jacobs again got the ball, and this time he just powered straight ahead for 6 yards, hit down by Hampton.  3rd and 4, Eli in the gun again, and this time he was able to find Smith on a quick pass over the middle from the slot, and he caught it on the run at the 19 yard line and darted his way to the 9 yard line, hit down by Townshend.  First and goal at the 9 a near disaster

As the Giants had the momentum, they tried a sweep to Jacobs running to his left.  However, as he tried to cut up the field, the ball came loose and Jacobs kicked it around by the 12 yard line.  For a moment it laid on the ground at the 13 yard line with 3 Steelers coming in on it, but McKenzie alertly fell on the ball to keep possession.  2nd and goal at the 13, Eli back and hit Kevin Boss over the middle at the 7 yard line, where it bounced off him and he recovered to haul it in with one hand at the at the 12 yard line, so a minimal gain.  3rd and goal, Eli in the gun and with a blitz coming, dumped the ball off to Ward at the 9 yard line and he would get dragged down by Farrior at the 8 yard line.  The brought up a 4th down and John Carney came on to nail a 26 yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 4:39 to go in the first quarter.

Carney’s kickoff was short and went to one of the up men blockers, Kerry Davis at the 13 yard line and he would take it out to the 31 yard line, taken down by Zak DeOssie and Blackburn.  On first down, a hard count by Ben caught his own man with a false start called on Hines Ward.  So first and 15, Ben with a short drop, but everyone was covered, and the Giants pass rush was no where, so he moved around a bit and found Ward at the 40 yard line, where he was hit down by Danny Clark, 1 yard short of a first down.  2nd and 1, Moore took the handoff up the middle and he tried to jump ahead for a first down, and he barely got it, hit down by Bryan Kehl.  As it looked like the Steelers were moving, Ben made a mistake

Roethlisberger dropped back, and with a clean pocket fired a pass somewhat in the direction of Ward, who ran his route about 5 yards beyond where Ben threw the ball.  Waiting there was James Butler, who dove and picked off the pass at the Giants’ 49, and as he scrambled to his feet, had the ball squirt free and roll forward to the Steelers 42 yard line, which led to a pile up and Kehl missed the initial recovery, but Kiwanuka was able to get back and recover.

So the Giants now had the ball in Steeler territory, Eli in the gun, and with Pittsburgh in a blitz, saw the line pick up up and find Kevin Boss in the flat, wide open at the 40, the big TE was able to turn up the field, and spin down at the 27 yard line, taken down by Ryan Clark.  However, moments after the play Hixon decided to deck Farrior for a late hit and a 15 yard penalty, which put them back at the 42 yard line, so essentially no gain on the play.  First down, Eli dropped back and hit Amani Toomer on an out pattern, with the Steelers playing way off, and Toomer hauled it in at the 35, and dove forward to the 33 yard line, one yard short of a first.  2nd and 1, Jacobs took the ball and powered to his right, dragging Lamar Woodley for 5 yards out to the 26 yard line, and another first down. 1st and 10, with Boss in motion, the ball went to Jacobs on a delay, and he got a head of steam running to his left, and he ran over Clark at the 20, and kept moving forward to the 16 yard line.  2nd and 1, the ball went to Derrick Ward up the middle, where he got hit but fell forward, and the refs brought the sticks out to measure and had him about 6 inches short.  

With the clock running, the Giants went to (GASP!!) and Eli Manning QB sneak up the middle, and Eli was able to push forward out to the 15 yard line and a first down on the final play of the quarter.  So why highlight this?  Well, at some point apparently after 2008, Coughlin..and then Ben McAdoo, ditched the QB sneak in short yardage situations.  The explanation was that Eli wasn’t good at it, or perhaps would get hurt.  No matter what way you slice it, it’s been removed from the playbook.  That’s all well and good, except for the fact that no defense that plays the Giants bothers to worry about a QB sneak in short yardage and key on the RBs.  The combination of poor inline blocking, subpar RBs, and no threat of a key play in short yardage (QB sneak) makes it no surprise the Giants have been bad in short yardage for years.  Anyway, first down to start the 2nd quarter, and Eli gave to Jacobs on a run to the right, Jacobs was hit in the backfield by Brett Keisel, but Jacobs got away from him, and squared his shoulders and powered forward, again running over Clark at the 8 yard line and falling forward to the 3 yard line.  First and goal, the Giants bring on Mike Matthews as a 2nd TE, and Eli tried to hit Toomer over the middle on a play action, and the ball was tipped and nearly picked by Polomalu.  2nd and goal, Eli in the gun, with a blitz coming, tried to hit Hixon in the end zone, and missed a wide open Steve Smith, but Woodley lined up offsides, giving the Giants another yard and keeping it at 2nd and Goal.  Jacobs would try to plow over the middle, but the Steelers stacked it up for no gain.  The Giants would try to power it in again

Again in a power formation, the ball went to Jacobs, running to his right, but he would cut back over the middle and take a hit at the 3, but keep his momentum and fall forward, stretching the ball over the goal line for an apparent TD.  The tough call was his elbow was down just as he was reaching across the plane.  Back in 2008, the rule that all TDs get automatically reviewed wasn’t in place, so Mike Tomlin threw the flag to review.  The replays would show he was inches short.  The Giants would challenge a good defense on the road, and again would give to Jacobs to plow up the middle, and this time the Steelers defense held off the surge and stopped Jacobs short of the goal line, with Clark helping to pull him back.  This time Coughlin would challenge the ruling, but with no definitive angle to show Jacobs crossed the goalline, the play stood as called, no TD for the Giants with 13:06 to go in the 2nd quarter.  
The good news for the Steelers, they stopped the Giants from scoring.  The bad news, they had the ball inside their own 1 yard line.  On first down, Ben went with a play action pass and dumped it to Kerry Davis in the flat at the 3 yard line and he lurched backwards towards the 5 yard line, where he was hit down by Kehl, but got breathing room.  2nd and 6, Moore took the handoff up the middle, but he was met at the line by Justin Tuck and Fred Robbins for no gain.  3rd and 6, Ben in the gun, tried a quick slant to Limus Sweed at the 9, but he was well covered by Webster and the ball bounced off his hands and fell incomplete, despite Roethlisberger looking for a flag.  So one would come Berger to punt from his end zone.

Berger got of a dangerous punt, fairly short and right down the middle, which is usually a recipe for disaster for cover teams.  And in this case, it nearly cost the Steelers, Hixon fielded the ball at the Pittsburgh 47 yard line, waited a moment for a lane to appear and accelerated to his left and up the sidelines, where he was actually upended by the punter Berger at the 19 yard line, preventing what would have been a TD.  

Coughlin decided at this point that the Plaxico punishment was over and put him in the game.  First down, the ball went to Ward running to his right, and got the ball down to the 17, taken down by Farrior.  2nd and 8, Eli would audible to the gun, and just get the snap off and he tried to hit Smith on a curl at the 9, but the ball was a tad high and was dropped.  3rd and 8, Eli in the gun, and tried to set up a center screen, but the rush got through too fast and Eli had to hurry as James Harrison was coming in on him and the ball was thrown incomplete.  So great field position was wasted by the Giants and Carney would come on to knock through a 35 yarder, using the wind to his advantage to hook it in, to make the score 7-6 with 10:30 to go in the 2nd

Carney’s kickoff would go bounce off Naja Davenport’s hands at the 3 yard line and go into the end zone, where he trotted over to recover and take a knee for a touchback.  First down, the Steelers began with a run by Moore to his left for no gain, as he was knocked back by Clark filling the hole.  2nd and 10, Moore again got the ball running to his left, and this time found a lane and gained 4 yards, hit down by Kehl.  

3rd and 6, Ben was in the gun, and took a high snap and threw a pass up the sidelines towards Moore who came out on a wheel route and beat Antonio Pierce in coverage, had the ball in his hands at the 40, but he got bent backwards and was drilled by Kenny Phillips, knocking the ball loose, and also looked very concussionesque.  The Giants bench celebrated the good, and what looked like a clean but hard hit, but then a moment later the flag came flying as Coughlin was screaming at the officials that Phillips hit with his shoulder rather than helmet.  But in 2008, the NFL started to focus  more on head injuries, and the call stood as a hit on a defenseless receiver.  Interestingly, Troy Aikman, whose career was limited by concussions himself (go ahead and look up the stories about him in the locker room after the 1995 NFC Championship game vs. the 49ers), complained that the league was going too far in punishing defensive players for hits.  Either way, it was a first down at the 39, and Ben decided to air it out, and looked to hit Nate Washington deep down the field, and he was open behind 2 Giants at the 20, but the ball hung in the air and forced Washington to come back to try to high point the ball.  But by that time, Dockery and Butler had closed the gap and knocked it away.  2nd and 10, a draw to Gary Russell worked well for an 8 yard gain, hit down by Butler and Kehl.  Just as the Steelers looked to keep their drive alive, the Giants defense made another play

In this case, Ben dropped back, had time to throw and stepped up in the pocket where he threw a dart to Washington at the 38 yard line, and he was drilled by Butler and seemingly knocked cold, and the ball came free and was snagged by Kehl at the 39 yard line.  Kehl would collect himself, run across the field and up the sidelines where he was horsecollared by Russell at the Steelers 39 yard line.  The refs would flag Russell for the illegal tackle (and the Steelers for a rare offensive offsides), the Giants would get the ball at the 29 thanks to the personal foul.

So again the Giants offense was gift wrapped great field position and they would begin with a drop back by Eli and a dump off to Jacobs at the 29, where he would bounce off Farrior and it took 6 Steelers to finally drag him down at the 18 yard line for a 6 yard gain.  On 2nd and 4, they tried a sprint draw to Jacobs, who was caught from behind by Keisel for a loss of a yard.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, was able to get the ball to Ward over the middle at the 22 yard line, and he would turn up the field, taking on Polomalu and falling forward to the 15 yard line.  First down, with Boss in motion, the ball went to Jacobs running to his left, was only able to get a yard and was slung back by Farrior.  2nd and 9, Jacobs again got the ball running to his left, and cut back up the middle and looked to break it, but was tripped up by Farrior and he fell down at the 9 yard line.  3rd and 4, the Giants would call their 2nd time out to think it over and after the break Gilbride would send his unit back out there and put Eli in the gun.  Eli would throw to Plaxico who broke off his route at the 7 yard line and haul in the pass, but get decked immediately by Ike Taylor and setting up a 4th down.  Frustratingly, again the Giants would settle for a Carney field goal, and he would hit from 25 yards out to make the score 9-7 with 3:31 to go in the half.  

Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 2 and he got to the 22 yard line, hit down by Droughns.  First down, Ben tried a 3 step drop, but nothing was open and as he tried to re-set, the pocket broke down around him and he was sacked by Tuck for a 6 yard loss.  2nd and 16, Ben in the gun, and with a blitz coming in on him, he was able to hit Miller in the seam at the 25 and he made his way up the field all the way to the 37 yard line, knocked down by Butler but good for a first down.  With the clock running and a no huddle offense, the ball went to Moore up the gut and he found a lane and took it to the 47, a yard short of the first down, hit down by Phillips and Butler at the 2 minute warning.  2nd and 1, Moore again found room up the middle and got down to the Giants 44 yard line, good for a first down and the Steelers took their first time out with 1:53 to go.  First down, with Ben in the gun, was able to hit Ward at the 39 and he was cut down by Ross at the 38, and Dockery got hurt on the play.  2nd and 4, and Dockery’s injury cost the Giants their final timeout with 1:37 to go as he would get carted off the field.  Ben in the gun, had a blitz come on him by Kiwanuka, forcing a quick pass to Moore at the 36 and he was hit down immediately by Phillips after a 1 yard gain.  With no timeouts and the clock running, the Giants defense would again step up

Ben was in the gun, and getting ready to get a first down and at least set up a field goal shot, but the Giants pass rush came in on him again, this time it was Kiwi coming in from right end (Osi’s normal spot but he was out for the season due to a knee injury vs. the Jets in the preseason) and he had a free run on Ben as the Steelers had to pick up a blitz and blasted him at the 45 and knocked him all the way back to the 48.  As a result of the sack, the Steelers just let the clock run and sent Berger in to punt, who got off a beauty, which bounced inside the 5 and was downed at the 2 with :07 to go.  On the play Berger actually hurt his hamstring and limped off.

The Giants set up and took a knee to run out the remainder of the clock and NY went in up 9-7 at halftime.

The Steelers would receive the 2nd half kickoff and Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 2 and could only make it to the 18, where he was hit hard by Ahmad Bradshaw.  First down, Pittsburgh start with a run to Moore up the middle, which took a while to develop and he was tackled after a gain of 2 by Webster.  2nd and 8, Ben back, with time, hit Miller over the middle at the 27, and he would spin up to the 31, hit down by Pierce but good for a first down.  Moore again got the ball, and this time he was hit in the backfield by Tuck and Johnson for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, Ben in the gun, and the Giants came in on an all out blitz, with a screen set up, the Steelers had a good call, but the ball was dropped by Moore.  3rd and 11, Ben in the shotgun again, took a high snap and had some time to throw initially, but good coverage down the field allowed the rush to get to him and he was dropped by Dave Tollefson for a sack back at the 22, the Giants 3rd of the game.  On would come Berger, punting with a bad hammy, and got the punt off, but struggled in pain, and the ball went to Hixon at the 36, and he was hit down at the 34 for a 2 yard loss. Meanwhile, during the punt, Johnson got a penalty for hitting a player out of bounds, and the ball went back to the 16 yard line.

The Giants offense took the field and started out with pass by Eli, who tried to hit Hedgecock in the flat, but the fullback dropped the ball.  2nd and 10, Jacobs got the carry running to his left, where he was wrapped up by about 5 Steelers for a 1 yard gain.  3rd and 9, Eli went back in the gun, and what would seem to be a give up call was a handoff to Ward, who picked his way around right end all the way to the 32 yard line, hit down by Clark and a first down.  However, as Ward was going up the field, they called Boss for a holding penalty and set the Giants back on a questionable call and made it 3rd and 14 at the 12.  This time Eli would throw a screen to the right to Ward, who caught it at the 6, and hurdled Farrior at the 18 and was brought down by Aaron Smith at the 21, short of a first down.  On would come Jeff Feagles to punt and he sent it to Moore at the 35 with a fair catch on a 45 yarder with no return with 10:10 to go in the 3rd.

The Steelers offense would come out with their 2nd drive and it didn’t take them long to make a play

Well, in the first half Washington burned the Giants defense and Ben underthrew him.  This time, on first down, a play action fake and slight rollout by Roethlisberger gave him time and he uncorked a deep shot to Washington who got behind the defense and caught it in the corner at the 25 where he had to hold up for the ball.  The safety Butler closed in on him and as Washington turned around, but completely screwed up the angle and thought Washington was staying inside.  As Webster futily pointed that he was going up the sidelines to get Butler to adjust, it was too late and Washington cruised into the end zone for a 65 yard TD bomb.  Reed’s extra point was good to make the score 14-9 with 10:00 remaining in the 3rd.

So how would the Giants answer?  Reed’s kickoff went to Bradshaw at the goalline and he would take it up to the 27 yard line.  NY would begin with an Eli pass and he tried to hit Plaxico on a comebacker, but the ball was dropped.  2nd and 10, a pitch back to Jacobs running to his left, and only gained about 2 yards, hit down by Taylor and Keisel.  3rd and 8, Eli back in the gun, had a lot of time and threw a perfect pass to Smith, who got behind the secondary (and somehow the refs missed a clear hold as Townsend grabbed his jersey) and had the ball hit him in the hands at the 50, but dropped it.  So it was a 3 and out, and on would come Feagles again, and this time he boomed another one to Moore, who fair caught it at the 22.

The Steelers who had a 1 play drive and a long TD the last time, began with a run to Moore going to his right, and was able to get 3, hit down by Clark.  2nd and 7, Ben back, and hit Sweed on a slant at the 30 and he broke a tackle and made it out to the 37, hit down by Pierce but good for first down.  Moore again got the call, tried to pick his way to the right and only gained 1, hit down by Kehl.  2nd and 9, Ben in the gun, and with a blitz coming in on him, hit the hot man in Ward at the 40, and he dragged Ross all the way out to the 48 yard line and a first down.  Moore got the ball, made a move in the backfield and cut back to his right to gain 5 yards, hit down by Clark at the Giants’ 47.  Moore took the carry again, running to his right and got close to a first down, hit down by Clark and Webster, as the teams scuffled after the play.  3rd and 1, Moore was able to find another lane, and broke through the line, as Ross missed a tackle and Moore took the ball out to the 36, hit down by Butler but yet another first down on this drive...however, an illegal formation messed it up as Hines Ward didn’t get to the line, so it went back to a 3rd and 6.  

The Giants defense was on their heels, the penalty saved them for the moment.  This time Ben would hit Sweed on a slant at the 43 yard line and he would drag Terrell Thomas out to the 38 yard line and a big first down which would have put the Steelers in great position to get another score...however, behind the play a late hit called on Pittsburgh, with offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu decking Pierce near the pile and got a personal foul.  So they got the first down, but lost 15 yards and set the ball back to the Steelers’ 47 yard line.  The Steelers weren’t done self destructing

Clearly offensive coordinator Bruce Arians saw something with Washington and the deep shots, and called for it again, as Washington beat Webster, hauled the pass in stride at the 5 yard line and took it into the end zone for an apparent TD….but, a flag was thrown by the line of scrimmage and it was coming back on a holding penalty on the Steelers’ Willie Colon mugged Tuck on a good call because if Colon didn’t grab him, Tuck sacks Roethlisberger.  So 53 yard TD is negated and the Steelers are now 1st and 20 at their own 37, meanwhile Barry Cofield went down with an injury.  Ben tried to hit Miller in the seam near the first down marker, but Webster knocked it free.  2nd and 20, Ben in the gun, had pressure from Tuck and forced him to scramble and he made his way out to the 40 and he was hit hard by Thomas, Pierce, and Kiwi.  3rd and 17, Ben in the gun again, and with the pocket breaking down, again threw a deep shot to Washington up the middle and he lept for the ball, but had it broken up on a hit by Butler and the ball fell incomplete.  So the Steelers had a chance at a drive for a score, and then an actual score ruined by penalties and on came a gimpy Berger to punt.  

Berger did a great job to get off a high punt to Hixon at the 9 and he took the ball out to the 16 yard line.  Meanwhile while flags were all over the field, Greg Warren, the long snapper was down as well and holding his left knee.  A hold on the Giants’ Phillips set the Giants back to the 5 yard line.  Cameras would cut to Warren getting helped off the field as the Giants got the ball deep in their own end with 2:42 to go.  Further replays would show Warren try to walk off the field, but his unstable left knee completely gave out and he went down in a heap with a clearly serious knee injury.  This would become critical in the 4th quarter.

So the Giants got the ball, still only trailing by 4, and the drive started with a mess as Dave Diehl came out of his stance too soon for a false start and send the Giants back to the 3.  1st and 12, with the crowd into the game, Ward took the carry up the middle and out to the 6 yard line, hit down by Hampton.  2nd and 9, Eli tried a quick WR screen to Mario Manningham, back at the 3, but the rookie dropped the pass.  3rd and 9, Eli in the gun, with pressure at his feet, tried to throw a pass in the direction of Smith, but the ball went incomplete.  Another 3 and out, and another punt from Feagles, this time a high punt at the 50 taken by Moore, who got hit after just a 1 yard gain by Hixon and Thomas with 1:43 to go in the 3rd.

On came the Steelers offense, who had taken control of this game at this point, but penalties held them back.  Ben started with a handoff to Moore who bounced outside and got to the 44 and was pushed out of bounds by Clark.  2nd and 5, Moore again got the carry and took the ball out to the 39 and another first down, hit down by Butler.  With the clock running, Moore kept on the ground, and took the ball to the 36, hit out of bounds by Kehl.  On the final play of the 3rd quarter, Moore took the carry running to his right, but he was nailed by Tuck and Johnson for a loss.  On 3rd and 8 at the start of the 4th quarter, Ben was in the gun and with Tuck ready to rush, Colon was called for a big false start.  That would make it now 3rd and 13, Ben was in the gun again, and as the pocket broke down, Ben scrambled to his right, chased by Robbins and threw back across his body to Moore, who made a diving catch at the 32, covered up by Johnson.  On 4th and 4, the Steelers decided to go for the kill

The Steelers decided they wanted to get the first down and try to put the Giants away.  With Ben in the gun, he immediately got pressure, first from Kiwi and then Butler, and threw off his back foot over the middle, where it was picked by Webster at the 25, and he took it up to the 32, covered up by Ward.  So it was Roethlisberger’s 3rd INT of the game, and the Giants remained alive with 14:00 to go in the game.

So it was first down for the Giants at their own 32 yard line, and they started with a play action and Eli was under pressure and was hit just as he threw (using his left hand in this case) in the direction of Jacobs, who was blasted by Harrison at the 35 yard line before the ball got to him, for a 2 yard pass interference penalty and a first down.  So after one of Eli’s weird improvisational moves, the Giants got a first down.  Eli this time gave the ball to Ward on a delay up the middle and he picked his way to the 44 yard line, hit down by Clark, and good for another first down.  Again Ward got the ball up the middle, but was taken down after only a 1 yard gain, taken down by Hampton.  2nd and 9, a fake to Ward and Eli took a deep shot to Smith, who was open down the middle and had the ball in his hands at the 8 yard line, but he took a big shot from Clark, which knocked the ball loose and also hurt Clark on the play.  The Giants would need a spark

With Clark in the locker room due to the injury, Eli was in the gun on 3rd and 9 as the Giants offensive line picked up the Steelers blitz perfectly.  That left Boss open in the flat at the 48 yard line.  Boss would catch the ball, and spin inside a missed tackle by Farrior and turn up the field, dodging another tackle attempt and heading up the sidelines, shook of a push by Polomalu and was finally knocked out of bounds by Keisel at the Steelers’ 38 yard line for a huge first down.   Eli would swing the ball out to Plaxico who got to the 33, where he was taken down by Harrison.  On the play the Steelers’ Ike Taylor would get injured and had to come out of the game.  2nd and 5, with the Steelers down 2 DBs, they handed to Ward running to his right and he got out to the 29, hit by Farrior.  This set up a 3rd and 1, Pittsburgh came on a run blitz up the middle and stopped Jacobs for no gain, with Keisel doing the honors.  After a time out by NY, on 4th and 2, the Giants decided to go for it.

This was a trainwreck which ended up working out.  As Eli came to the line, coming off a timeout, you’d figure the Giants had their play set.  But Eli saw something and tried to audible to a different play, however, he was running out of time and tried to call another timeout.  In the NFL, you cannot take back to back timeouts, so the refs ignored Eli’s attempt and the Giants were nailed with a delay of game.  While Troy Aikman rightfully took shots at the Giants and Eli for screwing up, Coughlin decided that he didn’t want to try a field goal on 4th and 6 at the 35, and put Eli back in the gun.  With a blitz coming at him, the Giants picked it up perfectly and gave Eli plenty of time to find Toomer down the right sideline, and he beat his man in coverage and Eli dropped a perfect pass ahead of the safety coming over to Toomer at the 4 yard line and he hauled it in down to the 4, as Aikman chuckled on the 30 yard gain about how the Giants were able to get away with their mistake.  First and goal at the 4, the ball went to Ward, who had penetration in the backfield and tried to leap over a Steeler and got blasted by Keisel for a 2 yard loss back to the 6.  2nd and goal, Eli tried to hit Plaxico in the corner, but the ball sailed over his head, and could have called a pass interference on Taylor.  3rd and goal, Eli in the gun, tried to hit Boss in the flat at around the 3, but the ball was knocked away by William Gay, who almost had a chance to pick it off for a 97 yard pick 6.  On would come Carney to hit a 24 yarder and make the score 14-12 with 8:18 to go.

The Giants offense still could not produce a TD, and Carney would kickoff to Davenport on a short one out to the 11, and the return man took it out to the 29 yard line, hit down by DeOssie and friends.  So the Steelers offense would come back out and Ben would have Kiwi in his lap again, and as he was getting slung to the ground, he flipped the ball in the direction of Moore and it was nearly picked by Clark..if not a fumble, but the refs ruled it an incomplete pass, though they probably should have given an in the grasp sack to Kiwanuka.  2nd and 10, the Steelers tried a draw that got demolished by a Giants blitz as Phillips hit Moore for a 4 yard loss.  3rd and 14, with Ben in the gun, the pass rush would be a factor again.

Mathias Kiwanuka was an unsung Giant for many years.  As a first round pick coming out of Boston College, Kiwi kind of did everything for the Giants.  He played linebacker.  He played DE.  He rushed at DT.  In 2008, when Osi went down with an injury, Kiwi moved back to DE.  And in this game, the Steelers couldn’t block him.  He went right around Max Starks and barged in on Ben, grabbing him at the 17 and had the rest of the cavalry come in with Tuck and others to jump on the pile, and get Kiwi his 2nd sack of the game.  This would prove significant because of what would happen next.

Remember that knee injury to the Steelers’ long snapper in the 3rd quarter?  Well, when Greg Warren went down, the Steelers needed a long snapper.  So linebacker James Harrison decided he was going to try to take one for the team and help.  Well, Harrison might have meant well as a team player, but he did not help in the execution.  Harrison’s snap air mailed way over Mitch Berger’s head, who was already gimpy from a hamstring injury.  Berger chased the ball into the end zone and lucky for him, it went out the back of the end zone for a safety, rather than a would be TD, with 3 Giants bearing down on him.  The unlikely turn of events tied the score at 14-14 with 6:48 to go in the game.  But if not for Kiwi’s sack, the Steelers would not have given up the safety.  

On the free kick, Berger had to go out there with his bad hammy and sent the ball out to Bradshaw at the 30, and Ahmad took it out to the 47 yard line, giving the Giants great field position.  First down now in a tie game, the ball went to Ward, up the gut and he got the ball out to the 50, pushed back by Smith.  2nd and 7, Eli went back, with time, and scrambled around and tried to dump the pass to Ward on the run, but the ball sailed on him and fell incomplete.  3rd and 7, Eli went back in the gun and again came up clutch in the 4th quarter

This is Eli Manning at his finest.  On the road, against the #1 defense in the NFL and in a close game, he is clutch.  He will do stupid things, like calling back to back time outs.  But he will hit Toomer for 30 yards on 4th down.  And on 3rd and 7, he will stand in as the Steelers came on a blitz, which was picked up and he drilled a strike into Steve Smith who got open at the 37 and the 2nd year player took the ball down to the 25, for a huge 25 yard gain, hit down by Tyrone Carter.  First down, the ball went to Jacobs who found room on the left side and gained 8 yards.  2nd and 2, with the clock running, the ball went to Plaxico on a quick pass out at the 13, and the former Steeler, spun inside, stayed in bounds and got the ball to the 9 yard line, hit down by Taylor, but he kept the clock running.  First and goal at the 9, Eli gave to Ward, running to his left and he took the ball down to the 2 and nearly spun his way into the end zone, hit down by Farrior.  On 2nd and goal, the Giants would finally break through

A lot went on for this 2 yard TD.  First of all, OL Kevin Boothe came in to play TE, which made the Steelers prep for a run.  Furthering that thought was that Jacobs came in for Ward.  So the Steelers sold out for the run, and as Eli faked the ball to Jacobs, the Steelers linebackers were sucked into the line.  James Harrison came in on a blitz, and was picked up by Jacobs, and when I say picked up, make that erased.  Jacobs pretty clearly gave Harrison a concussion in stonewalling him, as the LB was wobbled on the play.  That allowed Kevin Boss to sneak behind them for an easy TD all alone in the end zone.  Boss’ TD and Carney’s extra point made the score 21-14 Giants with 3:07 to go in the game.  

Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 8 yard line and he took the ball back out to the 30, hit by Droughns and DeOssie.  The Steelers needed a TD to tie and they came out 3:02 and 3 time outs.  Ben started off with a quick pass towards Washington in the flat, but the ball was short and fell incomplete.  2nd and 10, Ben dropped back and was drilled by Dave Tollefson just as he threw the ball and it again was short and incomplete.  3rd and 10, Ben in the gun, with Webster coming on a blitz, the ball was a hot route to Sweed, who caught it at the 35 and was hit down by Phillips at the 37, leaving him 4 yards short.  That set up a 4th and 4.

It was pretty clear at this point that the Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians realized that his unit couldn’t block the Giants.  So he called for a shotgun rollout pass by Ben running to his right and dump back to Hines Ward.  The problem was that the snap was not timed properly and  Ben was itchy with the trigger after so many hits (he was hit 14 times at this point) and threw it early to Ward, who was short of the first, but got nailed and dropped the ball thanks to hit by Webster.  The Giants took over with 2:08 to go in the game.

On first down at the 37, the ball went to Ward, who was hit behind the line by Smith for a 3 yard loss and the Steelers first time out with 2:05 to go.  Again the ball went to Ward, who stayed in bounds and got the ball to the 35, and the clock stopped at 1:58, going past the 2 minute warning.  On 3rd and 8, Eli again gave to Ward, who just dove over the middle, getting the Steelers to call their 2nd time out with 1:54 to go.  On 4th and 7, the Giants conservative plays brought on Feagles, who came on to put the Steelers at the 10 yard line, where Moore had a fair catch with 1:48 to go.

So the Steelers had one more chance at it.  Ben in the gun began with a Giants blitz in his face and a quick pass towards Sweed, however, the ball sailed incomplete.  2nd and 10, in the shotgun again, the pocket collapsed yet again, with Tollefson dragging Ben down as the tried to throw the ball and it was knocked down by Robbins.  On 3rd down, the Giants defense wasn’t done harrassing Roethlisberger

Ben was in the gun as the pocket set up momentarily for him.  But not for very long as Kiwi got around Starks again, and while Pierce was diving at Ben’s mid section, Kiwi came flying in from the backside to nail him and pop the ball loose.  The ball was picked up by Colon who took it to the 10, where he was cut down by Robbins.  However, since the Holy Roller, you can’t advance a fumble with anyone but the fumbler, so the ball went back to the spot of the fumble at the 5 yard line, and the Giants’ 5th sack.  On 4th and 15, it was time for Goodnight Irene.

Not much for Ben to do here.  He’s got 1:31 to go in the game.  He’s in the shotgun and the Giants pass rush has been relentless.  Predictably, Spags brought another blitz, and as the pocket began to deteriorate again, Ben just chucked the ball up the field as far as he could in the direction of Sweed, who had beat his man, but Phillips was playing safety and high pointed the ball at the 50 and picked it off falling backwards to the 47 with 1:24 to go and salt the game away.  It was Ben’s 4th pick of the game.  

All that was left was the victory formation and a few kneel downs by Eli to put the game away against a tough AFC opponent, on the road, and one who would win the Super Bowl in a few months, and put the Giants at 6-1 on the season.

Interesting Tidbits/ The Post Mortem

  • Mathias Kiwanuka registered 2.5 sacks of Ben Roethlesburger in the game.  It was the 2nd highest single game total in his career.  He had 3 sacks of Donovan McNabb in the Giants 16-3 Sunday Night win over the Eagles in 2007.  That was the night that Osi Umenyoria registered 6 sacks and the Giants totaled a team record 12.
  • Bryan Kehl's pick was the first and only one of his career.
  • Kenny Phillips, the Giants first round pick as a safety out of Miami, registered his first career NFL INT.  It was the only one of his rookie season.  Phillips would see his career derailed by a degenerative condition in his knee, his 2009 season was shut down after a 2 INT game in Dallas in the Cowboys first game at Jerruh world in Week 2.  Phillips would play with the Giants through the 2012 season, helping them win a Super Bowl in 2011 and was out of the league after the 2012 season.  He would have a brief comeback with the Saints in 2015 for 3 games and would retire after the season.
  • John Carney was signed before the 2008 season after an injury shelved playoff hero Lawrence Tynes for the season.  Carney, a long time kicker for the Chargers and the Saints, was pressed into duty after a season in which he split with the Jaguars and Chiefs.  At age 44, the Giants didn't expect much, but they ended up getting more than they could have possibly hoped for.  Carney would kick 4 field goals in the game, the most he had as a Giant and tied his effort against the Bengals a few weeks prior.  In all, Carney went 35 of 38 in Field Goals (good for a 92.1%) and hit all 38 extra points, to amass 143 points, which was a career high and bested his previous mark, when he led the NFL with 135 points in San Diego in 1994.  Carney would make the Pro Bowl in 1994, and he would make his 2nd Pro Bowl after 2008.
  • Carney however didn't have a happy ending.  Carney missed a 48 yard field goal with 3:22 to go in a meaningless final game at Minnesota, which set up the Vikings to hit a game winning 50 yarder from Ryan Longwell in a 20-19 loss.  While that game didn't matter as much, Carney would stuggle again in the playoffs against the Eagles.  Carney would hit on 3 short field goals, but he would miss 2 others, including a 46 yarder after the Tuck safety, which would have given the Giants an 8-7 lead, and a 47 yarder which would have given the Giants a 14-13 lead in the 3rd quarter.  
  • Tynes would return in 2009, and Carney would go back to the Saints and kick for the eventual Super Bowl champs for the first 11 games, before he was shelved and replaced by Garrett Hartley.  At age 46, Carney would return to the Saints and kick in 2 more games for them and would retire after the season and an impressive 23 year career.
  • Kevin Boss’ game winning TD was his 2nd TD catch of the season and started a stretch where he caught 1 TD in 4 of the next 5 games.  In all, Boss would catch 6 TDs in 2008, and it would turn out to be his career high.
  • James Butler’s INT was the first of the season and he would pick off 3 passes in 2008, a career high.
  • Plaxico Burress did not start as a disciplinary action from Tom Coughlin because he did not go to treatment for an injury on Friday.
  • Plaxico Burress started and finished his career with the Steelers.  In between he spent time with the Giants, Jets, and a stint in jail thanks to the nightclub accidental shooting incident which would occur a few weeks later.  This was the only time he faced the Steelers in his career.  He had a quiet day, catching 3 passes for 15 yards.
  • This was the Giants first visit to Heinz Field and it was only their 2nd trip to play at Pittsburgh since 1971.  Their previous game was a Monday Nighter at old Three Rivers Stadium in 1991, when the Ray Handley led Giants took a 20-0 lead against the Bubby Brister led Steelers.  Coach Chuck Noll would bench Brister in the 2nd half and bring on Neil O'Donnell at QB.  As was the Giants penchant against backup QBs, O'Donnell got hot and scored 20 unanswered points to tie the game at 20 in the 4th quarter.  Jeff Hostetler was then forced to lead a late drive which ended with former Steeler Matt Bahr hitting a 44 yard FG to win the game 23-20.
  • The Giants other game at Heinz Field was a 24-14 loss in 2016. The Giants fell behind 5-0 in the game, and were driving for a TD to take the lead, but an Eli Manning pick at the goal line and subsequent TD to Antonio Brown gave the Steelers an 11-0 lead and never looked back.
  • Long Snapper Greg Warren injured his knee, including a nasty buckling of it as he walked off the field, and Tomlin went with linebacker James Harrison, who fired the ball over Mitch Berger’s head for a tying safety.  Tomlin didn’t use his center or back up center in that spot and it would cost him the game.  The knee injury cost Warren his season and the Steelers would sign Jared Retkofsky to fill in the rest of the season, and ultimately win a Super Bowl ring.
  • Santonio Holmes was deactivated prior to the game because he was found with marijuana in his car on the Thursday before the game.
  • Steelers wore their throwback uniforms from the 1960s, including a yellow helmet and yellow pants and different black pattern on the jersey.
  • Steelers defense ranked #1 in the NFL entering the game.  
  • Roethlisberger was the Giants preference at QB in the 2004 draft if they couldn’t get Eli, but they picked Phillip Rivers because they felt San Diego wanted him.
  • Dick Stockton did game for FOX because Joe Buck was calling Game 4 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia between the Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.