Heading into Week 13, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers were both coming off winning streaks—the Giants putting together six straight, while the Steelers picked up steam riding back-to-back wins.
With Big Blue fighting to catch up to the surging Dallas Cowboys and Ben Roethlisberger looking to make good on a rollercoaster season, both teams understood that a win would be crucial to their efforts.
The first half was simply a nightmare for the Giants, whose offense completely broke down. They gained just 92 total yards, forcing the defense on the field, who gave up over 228 total yards to the Steelers.
Many looked to America’s Game of the Week for a shootout between two of the most prolific wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, however, was under duress early and often, eliminating any chance for OBJ to streak down the field.
To put the offensive line’s struggles into perspective, the Steelers’ first score was the result of a penalty for holding in the end zone on Giants’ young left tackle Ereck Flowers, forcing a safety and granting the Steelers a 2-0 lead.
The Steelers gained a stronger hold of the game shortly after as the Giants looked to put their first points on the board. Manning attempted a touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell, but the pass floated into traffic and was picked off.
The Steelers took full advantage of the opportunity, scoring on a toe-tap catch by Brown in the back of the end zone, his 11th touchdown of the season.
Nothing symbolized the Giants’ offensive struggles more then their inability to convert on third and fourth down, finishing 4-14 on conversion attempts, including 0-3 on 4th down—most notably getting stuffed at the Steelers three-yard line by an overwhelming Steelers defensive front.
Despite giving up nearly 400 yards of total offense, the Giants’ defense fought hard to give the offense opportunities to climb back into the game. After a forced fumble recovered by rookie cornerback Eli Apple, Manning led the Giants down the field and capped off the short drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to running back Rashad Jennings. Yet the Giants’ defense could not find an answer for Steelers tight end Ladarius Green, who broke the top off of the secondary for a whopping 110 yards on just six receptions and a touchdown.
Again the defense looked to create opportunities, this time looking to make up for the 21-7 deficit it had amassed by the end of the third quarter.
Prized offseason acquisition Olivier Vernon recorded two sacks to give the Giants hope, his fifth straight game with a sack. Apple was back in action shortly after with his first career interception looking to swing momentum in Big Blue’s favor.
Yet, the defensive efforts were all for naught as the Giants were only able to score during garbage time with just under a minute left in the game.
Big Blue found themselves on the receiving end of the broken win streak. After the game Giants receiver Victor Cruz voiced his displeasure in receiving zero targets and seeing the ball forced to OBJ out of desperation.
With a 24-14 final score, the Giants moved to an 8-4 overall record, falling three games back of the NFC East-leading Cowboys. Earlier in Week 13, Big Blue was disappointed to see the Minnesota Vikings relinquish a late-game lead to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, a win which would have made it possible to crawl within one game of Dallas. However, the Giants could not even make good on their end, instead widening the distance between the division lead.
Coincidentally, Big Blue is set to host Dallas at MetLife Stadium in Week 14 for the second leg of their divisional head-to-head. While a win by the Giants would bring them back within two games, many are now skeptical that the team will be able to capture the division title with four remaining games. Luckily for the Giants, they are in first place with a firm lead of the NFC wild card race, especially as the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have declined to the bottom of the pack in the NFC East. The wild card, however, is not even a sure thing as Big Blue is pitted against both the Eagles and the Redskins in the final two weeks of the season. While many have prematurely crowned the Cowboys division champs, the NFC East is still open for dramatic change.
In order for the Giants to derail Dallas’ 11-game win streak, they must first shake off their demons. A strong secondary that played exceptionally well down the field throughout the season saw itself break down at the hands of Pittsburgh tight end Green; hopefully an anomaly for Big Blue or else veteran Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is sure to exploit the defensive weakness. Similarly, the offense must rekindle its confidence which has put them ahead for six straight wins prior to Week 13. If the division is indeed out of reach, then at least the wins will protect the Giants’ lead over the Wildcard.