Giants worn down by Steelers in season opener

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry (24) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers reeled off 23 unanswered points to blow past the New York Giants in a 26-16 victory on Monday night to help cap off the first week of the NFL season.

It was a triumphant return for Ben Roethlisberger, who spent much of the 2019 season injured, as the Steelers quarterback posted 229 yards and three touchdowns, outdueling Giants second-year quarterback Daniel Jones.

Big Blue’s first starting quarterback in a season opener not named Eli Manning since 2004 showed glimpses of building toward that franchise-quarterback reputation, but costly turnovers headlined by two interceptions put a damper on the debuts of head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

Jones passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns — both of them to Darius Slayton, who racked up 102 yards on six catches — as the Giants’ only source of offense as star running back Saquon Barkley was held to just six yards on 15 carries.

While a promising opening drive that included a couple of first-down completions to Sterling Shepard stalled near midfield, the Giants were gifted possession inside the Steelers’ five-yard-line when Diontae Johnson muffed the punt, which was recovered by the Giants.

Jones couldn’t take full advantage, however, as the Steelers defense stood call and limited the Giants to a field goal.

After the Steelers answered with a field goal of their own, Jones proved that his strong connection with Slayton didn’t waver during the offseason as the two hooked up for a 41-yard touchdown straight down the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense 1:15 into the second quarter.

Pittsburgh provided a quick answer just over four minutes later, however, after Jones was picked off by TJ Watt — who dropped back into coverage from the defensive line to fool the young Giants quarterback on New York’s 36-yard-line.

It six plays to get into the end zone as Roethlisberger beat a Giants blitz by lofting a rainbow for an open JuJu Smith-Schuster from 10 yards out on a 3rd-and-7. The ensuing extra-point was missed, however, allowing the Giants to maintain a one-point lead.

But they wouldn’t have it by halftime. The Steelers’ two-minute drill provided death by screens as slants as they marched 78 yards in eight plays and 1:25 to take a 16-10 lead with seven seconds remaining in the second quarter with Roethlisberger hitting James Washington for a 13-yard score.

Out of the second half, the Giants put together one of their most methodical drives in recent years, marching 87 yards in 18 plays down to the Steelers’ 4-yard-line. But on the 19th play, Jones floated up a duck under pressure that floated safely into the hands of Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on the goal line to take the wind out of New York sails.

The Steelers would tack on three out of the turnover to go up nine in the fourth quarter before punctuating their run with an eight-yard touchdown reception by Smith-Schuster.

New York found some consolation with 1:52 left when Jones his Slayton for a seven-yard score, but it only salvaged the scoreline in a losing effort more than anything.

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