EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants’ special teams unit sure got a workout in Sunday.
After being stout all season, the specials teams unit had its worst game of the year as Pittsburgh consistently had great — if not outstanding — returns during its 24-20 win. The Steelers averaged 34.6 yards per kickoff returns and 25.3 on their punt returns.
The shaky play in coverage overshadowed two great special team plays in the fourth quarter that kept Pittsburgh off the board.
“Special teams was not good and that’s something we take pride in,” linebacker Mark Herzlich said. “We just left gaps open and that’s something we haven’t done all season, and we have to play every single play. We can’t expect them to just fall down at the 20 because we’ve stopped them all season. They are going to fight back and try to find the seams and we have to stop them better than we did today.”
The Giants lost the field-position battle all day as Pittsburgh used its speed in open space to gash the Giants. On punt returns, the Steelers had plenty of time to get running, while the kickoffs were not deep enough to sail out of the end zone or make Pittsburgh take a knee.
On the opening drive of the second half, Pittsburgh’s Chris Rainey returned the kickoff 68 yards to the Giants’ 35-yard line. He had 163 return yards on the day. In the fourth quarter, Emmanuel Sanders returned a punt for 63 yards to give the Steelers position inside the red zone.
The Steelers had a combined 249 return yards and managed to have a 60-yard return on a punt and a kickoff. The Giants’ return game, meanwhile, had just four kick returns for a total of 100 yards and did not have a single punt return.
“I think a lot of guys feel let down because we know what we’re capable of and we played some great special teams units on other team and we were able to shut it down,” cornerback Michael Coe said. “We just gotta go out there and correct the mistakes.”
While the special teams struggled, it made a pair of plays that had the potential to be a game-changing moments. On Sanders’ 63-yard return, punter Steve Weatherford was able to grab Sanders and force him out of bounds to prevent what had all the makings of a touchdown.
A few plays later, Pittsburgh lined up to kick a field goal and instead tried a fake by pitching it to kicker Shaun Suisham, but Coe snuffed it out to keep the Giants ahead 20-17. The offense, though, couldn’t get anything going and Pittsburgh forced a punt that led to great field position on what would be the game-winning drive for the Steelers.
“I thought (they would be big plays). I figured the offense would probably get a couple first downs, at least reverse the field, that’s all you’re hoping after a big stop or turnover on downs or you’re backed up like that,” Coe said. “You feel we get a couple first downs and even if we don’t score, we change the game by field position. You feel like you get a first down or two, you punt the ball away and if you don’t score, you make them go 80 or 90.”