Giants spoil Steelers’ exhibition opener
PITTSBURGH – Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz for a 57-yard touchdown pass and the New York Giants beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 18-13 in the preseason opener for both teams Saturday night.
Cruz slipped by William Gay and Troy Polamalu, then outran Ryan Clark to score on his first reception since signing a $43 million contract in the offseason. Manning finished 2 of 5 for 73 yards. The Giants scored on both drives the offensive starters were in the game.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 4 of 8 passes for 36 yards for Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers to a field goal on their second possession. Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones, the 17th overall pick in the draft, recovered a fumble in his professional debut. Running back Le’Veon Bell, the team’s second-round pick, did not play due to a sore left knee.
Cruz is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he established himself as one of the best deep threats in the game. He provided the lone highlight in a game that felt more like an extended scrimmage.
On third-and-4 from the New York 43 late in the first quarter, Cruz lined up in the slot and hauled in a rainbow from Manning. Gay, who returned to Pittsburgh in the offseason after a one-year stint in Arizona, tripped trying to keep up. Polamalu and Clark had no chance and Cruz strolled into the end zone.
The score helped make up for a miserable opening series by Manning and company after a blocked punt by Damontre Moore gave the Giants 1st and goal at the Pittsburgh 5. Three plays produced a run by David Wilson that went nowhere and two incomplete passes.
The Steelers weren’t much sharper. Playing behind a reconstituted offensive line that includes Mike Adams at left tackle barely two months after the second-year tackle was stabbed during a failed carjacking, Roethlisberger was sacked on Pittsburgh’s first possession. He found a bit of a rhythm the next time the Steelers had the ball, leading a 13-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Shaun Suisham’s field goal.
Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley spent a portion of the offseason searching for middle ground after a somewhat bumpy 2012. Pittsburgh kept it conservative against the defense that finished a woeful 31st in the league last fall. Roethlisberger only went down the field once, but Antonio Brown was unable to keep his feet inbounds on what could have been a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Pittsburgh was hoping to get a look at Bell after the 48th pick in the draft sparkled during the first two weeks of training camp. He was limited during the week after feeling a twinge in the knee, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin held Bell out as a precautionary measure.
The two guys fighting Bell for the starting job – Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman – did little to threaten Bell’s bid to walk onto the field with the first string in the season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 8. Redman ran twice for 7 yards, and Dwyer managed 15 yards on six carries.
Free-agent signee LaRod Stephens-Howling led Pittsburgh in rushing, picking up 40 yards on seven carries, though he figures to be used primarily on kick returns when the season starts.
There is no mystery over the starting running back gig in New York. The Giants gave the job to Wilson when they let Ahmad Bradshaw leave in free agency. Wilson did little in two series of work, carrying five times for 16 yards.
The Giants sat several regulars due to injury, including defensive stars Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Rookie offensive tackle Justin Pugh also missed the game because of a concussion.
The Steelers gave Jones, the heir apparent to James Harrison, plenty of run at outside linebacker with the second unit. He has shown a knack for getting to the ball in practice and backed it up by pouncing on David Carr’s fumble late in the second quarter after Carr botched handoff with Andre Brown.