Steelers Shake Off Rust to Defeat Giants in Week 1
Behind a stellar performance from their rush defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers open up the season 1-0, defeating the New York Giants 26-16.
The Steelers headed to MetLife Stadium with no fans or preseason games, and a quarterback returning from season-ending elbow surgery. And 60-minutes later, they claimed their first victory of the 2020 season.
"We could've played better," Tomlin said after the game. "There was some sloppiness that's kind of reflective of where we are. Probably a lot of us at this stage, first time in a stadium."
Tomlin highlighted Diontae Johnson's muffed punt in the first quarter, Chris Boswell's kickoff out of bounds, and the early penalties the Steelers faced.
"All those things are reasonable to expect us to get better and get better in a hurry. We better. We've got a short week, and we've got the Denver Broncos coming in," Tomlin said. "It's good to work on things with a W. We're appreciative for that. We're appreciative of the effort. It's awesome to have our quarterback back and see the things that he does and in the manner of which he does it."
Ben Roethlisberger finished with 229 yards and three touchdowns, completing 21 of 32 passes in his first game back since his injury. Tomlin said his nerves and jitters about the game and the quarterback ended "when the game was over."
"That's just the nature of this. There are nerves. There's scarcity in what we do," Tomlin said. "You only get 16 opportunities in the regular season. It was our first one, we haven't been in a stadium. I thought it was reasonable for all of us to have some level of nerves. And for me, it's not over until it's over."
The Steelers lost three starters to injury throughout the game. Running back James Conner (ankle), tackle Zach Banner (knee), and guard Stefen Wisniewski (pec) all left and did not return for the Steelers.
Kevin Dotson and Chuks Okorafor filled in for the injured linemen throughout the game. Afterward, Roethlisberger sent his prayers to the injured linemen and said he remains confident in the backups to step into bigger roles.
"Guys stepped up and filled the gap and did some great things," Roethlisberger said. "It's one thing to come in for series or two, and it's another thing to prepare to face another defense next week. But I'm sure the guys, whoever it is, will be ready to go."
Benny Snell Jr. replaced Conner in the second quarter of Monday night's game. The second-year back rushed 19 times for 113 yards, a career-high performance for the running back.
"I wasn't surprised by what he was able to do," Tomlin said. "He's a quality player and one that's maturing and emerging and was ready to answer the bell when called upon."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers held Giants running back Saquon Barkley to only six yards. The third-year running back has two 1,000 yard seasons on his resume but was removed from the game plan in Week 1.
"Tonight, we just wanted to smash the run first and foremost," linebacker T.J. Watt said. "Whoever could get there first. By the time you got to the ball it seemed like there was three guys there before you. We smashed the run early. We wanted to make them one-dimensional, make them have to pass, and I feel like we did a good job of that."
The Steelers head into Week 2 to face the Broncos at Heinz Field. They'll work off a shortened week due to the Monday game, which Tomlin hopes will be used to shake the remaining rust off their play.
"I thought they showed their mental. I thought they were physically tough, mentally tough, but we've got to do some things better," Tomlin said about the Steelers' Week 1 performance. "We knew we weren't going to be perfect tonight. We talked about it openly last night in preparation for this opportunity. But there's more meat on the bone. I appreciate their efforts, but we've got to reach for a higher ceiling in terms of quality of play."