EAST RUTHERFORD — Sometimes, real life intrudes on the games we play. And sometimes, we need those games to get away from real life.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the destruction it brought to the Northeast, everyone on the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants understood that.
“There are so many bigger things going on around here that what we do is not as important as real life,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Sunday after throwing for two touchdowns in a 24-20 comeback victory. “My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone else who are going through so much. There were so many emotions going on, I didn’t know what to expect from it. But maybe we were able to take their minds off their problems just a little.”
That’s all the local fans sought: temporary relief and the Giants (6-3) provided it for a while. But they couldn’t stop Isaac Redman, who had little relief with Pittsburgh’s other two main backs injured, yet rushed for a career-best 147 yards and the winning 1-yard TD with 4:02 to go.
Overcoming unusual sloppiness, the Steelers (5-3) dominated the second half. They did so after they arrived in New Jersey hours before the game, which might have accounted for their carelessness. They had the fewest giveaways in the NFL entering the game, but were neglectful with the ball and in pass coverage; cornerback Keenan Lewis had 87 yards on two pass-interference penalties. They wasted some great kick returns, too.
The Steelers’ long day began with a plane ride to New Jersey, a short side trip to their team hotel — they couldn’t get enough rooms to stay in the area on Saturday night and needed a league travel waiver to arrive on game day — then on to the stadium. Outside, folks tailgated and tried to blunt some of the devastation from the week’s superstorm. As Giants fan Courtney Davis, whose town of Sea Bright was washed away by Hurricane Sandy, said in response to holding the game: “We need this.”
“Coming in the day of the game was tough and we had to deal with that adversity,” Redman said. “But the Giants had to deal with adversity all week. We just had to come in here and be ready to play.
“This shows we have a lot of heart. When you play for the Steelers, it’s all about heart.”
Their hearts went out to those who packed MetLife Stadium despite the difficulties caused by a lack of power in many homes, long gas lines and, of course, severe damage throughout the region.
When Pittsburgh came on relentlessly, the one-quarter of the 80,991 seats occupied by Terrible Towel-waving Steelers faithful could celebrate an impressive comeback victory, coach Mike Tomlin’s 60th win.
“We didn’t talk much about the travel,” Tomlin insisted, although Roethlisberger said teammates were in the hallways of the hotel sleeping after morning meetings.
“This is a game,” Tomlin added. “What happened here is life and reality.”
This is one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL, although the teams have met only five times in 18 years. It had to feel weird for the Giants to have the ballpark rock when the visitors took charge.
“That’s as disappointing a loss as we’ve had in a long time,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Not to be overly reactionary or emotional, to play against a very good football team like that ... we wanted emotionally to win the game so badly for obvious reasons, for our neighbors who are struggling, who needed some type of inspiration and we didn’t provide it.”
The Giants saw their four-game winning streak end. They seemed in control as Michael Boley sprinted 70 yards with a fumble recovery in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger cocked his arm to throw and defensive end Osi Umenyiora hit it. The ball came loose and while the quarterback signaled that his arm was coming forward, Boley sped down the right sideline for the score. Video replay upheld the touchdown for a 14-7 New York lead.
Among Pittsburgh’s gaffes: a fake field goal from the New York 3 early in the fourth quarter on which kicker Shaun Suisham lost a yard. That wasted a 63-yard punt return by Sanders on his first such runback all season.
Eli Manning threw for only 125 yards in one of the worst games of his career.
Ike Taylor’s interception of Manning’s pass for Victor Cruz into double coverage set up Pittsburgh’s 58-yard drive to Sanders’ leaping 4-yard catch in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Back immediately came the Giants, helped by a 41-yard interference call on Lewis. Andre Brown powered in from the 1 a play after Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark’s late hit on Cruz in the end zone gave New York a first down.
Then Umenyiora and Boley made their huge play.
Lewis wasn’t through contributing to New York’s yardage. He also had a 46-yard interference penalty guarding Cruz, but Lawrence Tynes’ field goal try was short from 51 yards. In the final 31 seconds of the half, Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for 24 yards, Heath Miller for 23, and Suisham nailed a 30-yard field goal.
Tynes matched that with a 50-yarder in the third quarter set up by Martellus Bennett’s 33-yard reception. Tynes later made a 23-yarder for a 20-10 lead.
Wallace’s weaving dash across half the field for a 51-yard score that made it 20-17.
Notes: Pittsburgh lost leading receiver Antonio Brown in the first half with a left ankle sprain and kick returner Chris Rainey in the third quarter with a rib injury. Rainey had 173 yards on five runbacks ... The Steelers held the ball for more than 35 minutes ... Cruz was targeted 11 times, but made only five receptions for 67 yards.