SUBSCRIBE NOW
Flash Sale! $39 for one year
SUBSCRIBE NOW
Flash Sale! $39 for one year

Monday’s NFL: Defense, Snell, Big Ben carry Steelers over Giants

Barry Wilner
Associated Press

East Rutherford, N.J. – There was one overriding reason Ben Roethlisberger worked so hard to return from a major elbow injury.

His team.

Roethlisberger, who missed the final 14 games last season after elbow surgery, threw for three scores and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants 26-16 at an empty and eerie MetLife Stadium on Monday night. He also got all the help he could ask for from his defense and backup running back Bennie Snell.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) comes down with a touchdown pass against New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry (24) during the fourth quarter.

“I am excited we won the game,” Roethlisberger said. “I told the guys before the game it is not about me individually. The reason I came back is for these guys, this team. It’s a special group of football players, of men, and I am just glad to be a part of it.”

A key part of it, along with several defensive plays and Snell’s 113 yards on 19 carries – his first 100-yard performance in his second NFL season.

“We have talked openly about the maturation process and things you can expect from a second-year player,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “and he’s showed signs of that from the very beginning of this process. He is a quality player and one that is maturing and emerging, and one who answered the bell when called upon.”

The defense, while not quite on the level of the famed Steel Curtain, was stingy and physical. It held Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries, swarming in the backfield nearly all night.

“I have to be better,” Barkley said. “I have to be better for the team. We have to get the running game going.”

Three Steelers stars got them their first touchdown. All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt made a clever interception at the New York 36. Roethlisberger beat a blitz with a perfect throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard second-quarter score. Chris Boswell’s extra point hit the upright, leaving them behind 10-9.

They got the lead with 7 seconds remaining in the half as Roethlisberger connected with James Washington, who dived into the end zone for a 13-yard score. Boswell made the PAT this time, and added a 36-yard field goal early in the final quarter. That came following the night’s biggest play.

Even though the Pittsburgh defense broke down as the Giants marched 87 yards on 19 plays in the third quarter, it still came up with a huge stop. Bud Dupree pressured quarterback Daniel Jones as he rolled left from the 4 and deflected his pass. Edge rusher Cam Heyward practically made a fair catch in the end zone for the interception.

“I want to make a play for my team. I saw Bud laying him down,” Heyward said. “I tried to make a good play and float to the ball.

“We got to be an opportunistic defense. We got sacks by guys who don’t usually get sacks and interceptions by guys who don’t usually get interceptions.”

Roethlisberger then took Pittsburgh 62 yards for the field goal and a 19-10 lead. He hit Smith-Schuster again for a 10-yard touchdown and a 26-10 lead before New York got a late TD.

Roethlisberger finished 21 of 32 for 229 yards has now thrown for 366 touchdowns, a franchise record, tying Eli Manning for the eighth most in NFL history.

More NFL

Tennessee 16, (at) Denver 14: The Titans escaped Denver with a victory on Stephen Gostkowski’s 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds left after he’d missed four kicks, one in each quarter.

Gostkowski missed three field goals: wide left, wide right and a block, and he missed an extra point.

Gostkowski never missed three field goals in a game during his 14 seasons in New England, where he won three Super Bowl rings, made four Pro Bowls and left this offseason as the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer.

On Thursday he joined the Titans, who had the worst field goal unit in the NFL last year when their first four kickers combined to connect on only 44.4% of field goals (8 for 18).

Although the final result was to his liking, surely his debut wasn’t.

The last Titans/Oilers kicker to miss three field goals and an extra point in a game was Skip Butler against the Jets in the 1977 season opener. And Gostkowski became the first kicker to miss three field goals and a PAT in the same game since Mason Crosby missed four field goals and a PAT for the Packers against the Lions in 2018.

Gostkowski, who had made 87.4% of his kicks coming into the game, a percentage that ranked fifth-best in NFL history, missed a 47-yarder in the first quarter and Shelby Harris blocked his 43-yarder just before halftime. Gostkowski’s 42-yarder in the third quarter was wide left and he missed the PAT following Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown on Jonnu Smith’s catch from Ryan Tannehill on fourth-and-1 with 13:49 remaining.

Denver replied with a 75-yard drive, with Melvin Gordon taking it in from a yard out, and Brandon McManus’ extra point put the Broncos up 14-13 with 9 minutes left.

The Broncos punted on their next two possessions and the Titans made them pay with a 12-play, 83-yard, game-winning scoring drive.

The teams scuffled to a 7-all tie after an eventful first half that included an ejection, a goal-line stand and Gostkowski’s dismal debut four days after signing with the Titans. The 36-year-old Gostkowski left New England with 1,775 points over 204 games.

Drew Lock threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant after Gostkowski’s first miss, and the Titans tied it on Tannehill’s 1-yard strike to MyCole Pruitt after a Denver turnover.

Gordon, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal in free agency, coughed up the ball at the Denver 23 on a hard hit by safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league with 17 interceptions since 2017 but had never forced a fumble. Jeffrey Simmons recovered for Tennessee.

The Broncos failed to punch it in on three tries from the Titans 1 in the second quarter. Lock overthrew a wide-open Nick Vannett, Gordon was stuffed for no gain and Lock’s shovel pass to Jake Butt came up a yard short of the goal line.

Butt was on the receiving end of Rashaan Evans’ punch that got the Titans linebacker ejected.

There were no paying spectators but about 500 guests of players and coaches were in the stands as a sort of trial run for the Broncos’ next home game, against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay in two weeks, when 5,700 fans will be allowed into the 70,000-seat Empower Field at Mile High.

Mask reminder

The NFL reminded team personnel on the sidelines about the COVID-19 requirements for wearing face coverings, saying such carelessness or disregard could put the season “at risk.”

There were several games Sunday in which team members other than players did not use face coverings.

Troy Vincent, who oversees the league’s football operations, sent a memo to the 32 clubs. He stressed that teams “must remain vigilant and disciplined in following the processes and protocols put in place by not only the league, union and clubs, but also by state and local governments.”

After congratulating the teams for overcoming coronavirus challenges and beginning the regular season on time, Vincent strongly cautioned against undoing that work.

He referred to the game-day protocols developed by the league and the NFL Players Association that reflect the advice of infectious disease experts, club medical staffs and local and state governmental regulations.

Those require all individuals with bench area access, including coaches and members of the club medical staff, to wear face coverings at all times.

“Failure to adhere to this requirement will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs,” the memo said. “The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus.”

Punishment for not adhering to the protocols has not been announced, but could include anything from fines to ejection from the sideline.

Extra points

The Jets might be without versatile running back Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) for at least two games. Bell injured his hamstring late in the first half of Sunday’s season-opening 27-17 loss to the Bills. He tried to play through it, but Adam Gase pulled Bell early in the third quarter.

Gase said on a conference call that it could be “a couple weeks,” but was reluctant to put a timetable on Bell.

... Cleveland waived Austin Seibert after he missed an extra point and field goal in the first half of Sunday’s season-opening loss at Baltimore. He’s being replaced by Cody Parkey, who kicked for the Browns in 2016 and is best known for missing a late field goal for the Chicago Bears in the 2018 playoffs.