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Steelers 24, Giants 14: Winner, loser in awful game for Giants

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There were only a couple winners and a whole lot of losers Sunday evening

NFL: New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is such a thing as a good loss. The kind of game where you can see the team coming together and narrowly loses while punching out of its weight class. Those are the kinds of games that can give a team the motivation to push through to the playoffs.

The New York Giants’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t one of those games. This was the kind of game that tests a team’s resolve to bounce back, to fight through adversity, and puts their faults on tape highlighted in neon.

This was a game with damn few winners, and a whole bunch of losers.

Winner - Olivier Vernon

If the Giants had one winner it would be Olivier Vernon. Playing with a brace on his wrist he finished the game with two tackles and a pair of sacks, but he had an impact beyond the box score.

Vernon was a menace on the outside, and probably could have drawn at least a handful of holding penalties all by himself if the refs had been so inclined. He was also typically stout in the run game, either helping to keep holes from opening most of the game or forcing plays to go back to other tacklers.

Jason Pierre-Paul going down to a groin injury late in the first half put even more pressure on Vernon. The free agent defensive end, however, stepped up and did more than his fair share to help keep the Giants in a game the offense didn’t seem to want to be in.

Many might have raised an eyebrow at Vernon’s contract, but so far he has proven to be worth every penny.

Loser - The New York Giants

I’m going to cast a wide net here, because I’m only “supposed” to do a single winner and loser.

Collectively the Giants are losers tonight, and in ways that could stay with them.

First off, the offense was bad. It was terrible. As usual they flashed hints of what they could be capable of if they ever managed to play up to their potential, but that was it. There was a nice fake hand-off , to fake reverse, to screen pass to Rashad Jennings for the touchdown. A great run from Paul Perkins and a “WOW” throw from Eli Manning to Sterling Shepard to pick up a third down. A torrid garbage time touchdown to Shepard.

But just flashes. The rest of the time the offense was the same as we’ve become accustomed. Slipshod, mired in bad execution, drive-killing penalties, and predictable play-calling — a special shout-out to the decision to trot Larry Donnell out, who hasn’t played in weeks, in the red zone.

But we’ve gotten used to seeing bad play from a talented offense.

What makes this loss hurt badly is two-fold.

More immediately is Jason Pierre-Paul’s groin injury. JPP’s come-back season has been a monster one so far. He’s done it all for the Giants’ defense — play an almost insane number of snaps, tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks, batted passes aplenty, and even a defensive touchdown, all while dominating in the run game.

And that last is the one that might hurt the most. Next weekend the Giants play the Dallas Cowboys and the best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL. Without JPP on the front line, the Giants’ defense is weaker. Not just in their ability to pressure the quarterback but in the running game. The Giants need JPP’s length, power, discipline, and talent up front against that dominant Dallas line. The Giants had their work cut out for them next week before JPP went down, and if he’s out next week, the game gets that much harder.

Taking a bit longer view is the Giants’ playoff chances. They escaped this week without losing their place in the post-season hunt thanks to a gutsy call by the Arizona Cardinals that led to a Washington Redskins loss. But if this loss turns into a skid, they could find themselves on the outside looking in as the Packers, Vikings, and Buccaneers are all seeming to heat up.