For a moment there, it looked like the New York Giants would pull off the upset. But the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated New York, 26-16, on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
For the fourth straight season, New York starts the season 0-1 while the Steelers start the season 1-0.
The Giants scored first in the game on a 21-yard field goal and the Steelers tied it at three with a field goal of their own at the end of the first quarter. Daniel Jones connected with Darius Slayton on a 41-yard touchdown pass to clinch a 10-3 lead.
But the rest of the first half was all Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger threw a short pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard touchdown. After a shaky first half overall, Roethlisberger appeared to find his groove in the final two minutes of the first half as connected with James Washington for a 13-yard touchdown to make the score 16-10 at halftime.
The Giants put together an impressive 19-yard drive in the third quarter, but an interception by Jones gave the Steelers back the ball and led to a scoring drive for Pittsburgh. Another touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers a commanding 25-10 lead. Jones would connect with Slayton for one more touchdown with less than two minutes to play but it wasn’t enough to defeat the Steelers.
An almost-strong start
In Joe Judge’s first offensive play as the Giants head coach, Daniel Jones connected on a slant over the middle to Sterling Shepard for the first down. New York converted another first down, but was ultimately forced to punt the ball after a delay of game call set them back.
So hope appeared to be lost for the Giants to have a strong opening drive. But then Diontae Johnson muffed Riley Dixon’s punt and it was recovered by the Giants at the 3-yard line.
Ultimately though, the Giants went three-and-out after the muffed punt and were forced to settle for a field goal. So the Giants jumped out to an early lead, but not as commanding a lead as it should have been.
Welcome back, Slayton
It’s become a familiar sight to see Jones connect with Darius Slayton, but it never gets old. Slayton scored a 41-yard touchdown pass over the middle to give the Giants a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
Last season, Slayton tied Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown to lead all rookies with eight receiving touchdowns. He also made seven catches last season when the ball traveled more than 20 yards.
The deep touchdown pass was also a good sign for the Giants offensive line, which shoed more success at pass protecting than run blocking early in the game. The OL gave Slayton time to develop the route, giving Jones plenty of time to step into the touchdown throw and fire a strike.
It's been 260 days, but football is BACK!— New York Giants (@Giants) September 14, 2020
: https://t.co/yjv55mRicK | #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/tlMcH1VaCh
Jones’ interceptions were the same but different
Jones faced a lot of heat as a rookie for his turnovers. He got his first interception of the 2020 season over early when T.J. Watt intercepted his pass in the second quarter. In typical Jones fashion, he followed his stellar touchdown pass with a pick.
Yet, the interception did not have the same feel as many of Jones’ 12 picks from a season ago. There wasn’t much else he could have done on the play and Watt made a great play on the ball, hauling in the fourth interception of his career.
Jones’ pass was also intended for Evan Engram, but the two had a hard time connecting for most of the first half of the game. On the first pass that Engram actually did catch, a 24-yard pass, he committed offensive pass interference. He also had a drop earlier in the game.
Jones also led quarterbacks in the NFL in lost fumbles last season, but he showed small signs of improvement in Monday’s game. After being sacked by the Steelers’ Stephon Tuitt and facing pressure from the entire Steelers D-line at the end of the first half, Jones used two hands to protect the football as he was tackled to the ground. That’s a play that could have resulted in a fumble last season.
The interception that Jones threw to end the Giants’ 19-play drive at the start of the third quarter was much more heartbreaking. His short pass intended for Slayton was picked off by defensive tackle Cameron Heyward in the end zone. Jones was harassed by edge rusher Bud Dupree and, rather than take the sack, tried to throw an ill-advised pass while being hit.
“I guess you could look back at that moment and say that hurt us, but you just don’t know ... they made a play,” Barkley said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t find a way to win the game.”
One step forward, one step back
While the Giants finished the game with 279 passing yards, they had much less to show for their rushing game. In the first half alone, the Steelers had 179 total yards and the Giants had 140. New York finished the the half with -3 yards rushing. Saquon Barkley has nine rushes in the first half for -3 yards. Dion Lewis led the Giants in rushing in the half with one yard.
New York finished the game with 29 rushing yards and Jones led the team in rushing with 22 yards while Barkley led the team in rushing attempts with 15.
Jones had 26 completions in 41 attempts for 279 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked three times in the game.
The Giants’ 19-play drive was the longest drive in plays since Week 13 in 2014. It was tied for the longest drive since 1999 that resulted in a turnover.
The Saints had a 19-play drive end in a lost fumble in 2018, and the Broncos had a 19-play drive end with a fumble in 2002.
Slayton continued to ride the momentum from his rookie season with six receptions for a team-leading 102 yards and two touchdowns. Slayton recorded three two-touchdown games last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Blake Martinez led the team with 12 tackles, including eight solo and one tackle for loss.
Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence each recorded one sack in the game.
Williams off to a strong 2020 season. https://t.co/nfiqDsh5GH— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) September 15, 2020
The Giants will return next week for their first away game of the season against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on CBS.