To anyone bold enough to think a 14-2, even 12-4 season was in the offing: You gotta another think coming, eh?
The Steelers' injury situation in the aftermath of this loss read: one gone for the season, one leg up in the air and one shoulder unknown.
Long snapper Greg Warren tore an ACL and is lost for the remainder of 2008. "Nobody has two long snappers on their team; what you have is emergency snappers," Coach Mike Tomlin said, explaining the usage of linebacker James Harrison who, for the record, is backed by fellow linebacker James Farrior. So the Steelers will hit the market tonight, or Monday at the latest. (Tomlin said the lack of a tested long snapper isn't the complete reason why Tomlin opted to disdain a 51-yard field goal attempt on the second play of the fourth quarter; part of it was the length, or what he termed "the outer limits of field-goal range. [But] wen you have a backup snapper in there, you knew that tey were going to come after it."
Punter Mitch Berger has a balky hamstring -- get it, his punting leg is "up in the air"? -- and safety Ryan Clark discloated his right shoulder, but said afterward that he felt fine and hoped to play on Election Day Eve against Washington.
7:35 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger, throwing deep for a Limas Sweed he kept busy on this day with Santonio Holmes suspended and Dallas Baker ailing, was intercepted on a last-ditch, fourth-down attempt. Eli Manning, the latest Manning to win a Super Bowl, went into kneel-down, victory formation. The final: Football Giants 21, Steelers 14.
And the rough second-half patch of the Steelers' schedule continues, with a pre-Election Day game next Monday night at the Washington Redskins, with Eli's big brudder Peyton and the Colts to follow, with San Diego then on deck.
7:25 p.m.: Not only a one-touchdown deficit but an unstable situation at long snapper caused the Steelers to go for it on fourth-and-four with two and a half minutes left. . . and fail.
See how much an injury can alter things? If Greg Warren doesn't get hurt -- and his knee looked bad enough to be a season-ending injury -- the Steelers conceivably are nursing a 14-12 lead in these final minutes.
7:19 p.m.: After the free kick following the safety, the Football Giants moved 53 yards downfield briskly, including. . . Plex Watch! Update No. 4: More catches! . . .a nine-yard sideline reception by Plaxico Burress. The defending world champions regain the lead with an Eli Manning-to-Kevin Boss, 2-yard touchdown pass with just 3:07 left, 21-14. It's their only touchdown of the day, and it just might be enough for victory.
7:11 p.m.: Linebacker James Harrison, after too brief a sideline tryout, tossed his first NFL long snap over the head of 6-foot-4 punter Mitch Berger and bouncing out of the end zone for a safety. And that's how you yield four field goals and a two-pointer to allow the opposition to rally to a 14-14 tie. The hard way.
7:04 p.m.: On a fourth-and-seven snap right after he tried to improperly call a timeout when his team already had taken one, Eli "Chris Webber" Manning threw a lovely 30-yard pass to Amani Toomer, who did go to the same Michigan as Webber the phantom timeout-caller from NCAA basketball infamy. No worries. The Steelers' defense turned aside the Football Giants on three plays starting at the Pittsburgh 4-yard line, and for a fourth time inside the Red Zone the visitors -- this time after a 12-play, 62-yard, 5:42 drive -- had to settle at 8:18 of the fourth quarter for a short-range field goal, this at 24 yards, from Old Man Three Rivers John Carney.
6:36 p.m.: Here's a metaphysical question you don't hear often: So who's the backup long-snapper? Greg Warren went down on a punt late in the third quarter with a knee injury, and it appeared to worsen exponentially when he tried to walk off the field -- instead crumpling in a heap. The answer: Second-year man Darnell Stapleton, starting at right guard for the injured Kendall Simmons, promptly began practicing snaps on the sidelines to holder-punter Mitch Berger and Jeff Reed. Then again, with the offense on the field, linebacker James Harrison seemed to be auditioning for the punting long-snap duties by grabbing a ball and tossing back a couple of decent snaps.
6:12 p.m.: Kids, don't do this at home. Didja see James Butler's, uh, "coverage" of Nate Washington on the 65-yard touchdown pass at the 10-minute mark of the third quarter? Sure, Butler gummed it up enough to allow Washington to remain wiiiide open and catch Ben Roethlisberger's pass around the Noo Yawk 15. But then Butler inexplicably spun to his right, away from the left sideline where Washington had commenced running downfield, and appeared to be escorting Washington into the end zone rather than trying to tackle him short of it. Steelers 14, defending world champions 9.
Maybe Nate just scared him like some hulking, 1960s sci-fi creature. "Whoa-oh, there goes the North Sho'. Go, go, Godzilla . . ."
Or, for your musical entertainment...
6:09 p.m.: Salute, today's crowd set a regular-season record for Heinz Field, at 64,991. The last time the mustard bowl had more patrons inside, it was the 2005 AFC Championship game against the dread New England Patriots.
If you had 64,991 in the pool, please raise your hand.
5:49 p.m.: Noo Yawk safety Kenny Phillips might find a little less in his paycheck for his penalty and crunching blow of a ruled "defenseless" Mewelde Moore on a second-quarter incomplete pass in front of the visitors' bench. Given the NFL's proclivity for garnishing wages of its celebrated employees (see Plex Watch! Update No. 1, 3:56 p.m.), perhaps we'll soon see a NFLPlayersAssociation Debt Clock high above a Manhattan street. . . .
5:47 p.m.: Halftime at Heinz Field. The Steelers' last-ditch drive ends in an empty-set sack of Ben Roethlisberger. . . so maybe the Football Giants don't miss Old Gap-Tooth after all (see Using different formations, 4:26 p.m.). Giants 9, Steelers 7.
5:24 p.m.: Definition of one reeeeeeally bad play: Two penalties, one interception, one shaken-up receiver, one 15-yard additional boost, an immeasurable momentum turn.
It all started with Limas Sweed aligning offside, something correctly spotted by both the PG's Gerry Dulac in the press box and, slightly more important, line judge Gary Arthur on the field. Then, on Ben Roethlisberger's third-and-two throw down the middle to Nate Washington, safety James Butler clobbered Nate Washington from behind. The ball squirted out and into the hands of linebacker Bryan Kehl, who was only starting because of starter Gerris Wilkinson's injury (see Inactives, 3:04 p.m.). On Kehl's return, Gary Russell was flagged for a horse-collar tackle infraction, setting up the visitors at the Steelers' 22, and a woozy Washington was escorted off the field by team medical personnel. Plex Watch: Update No. 3: He makes a catch! It was only two yards on third-and-four, though, so Grampa John Carney came in and kicked yet another field goal -- this from 25 yards -- for a 9-7 Noo Yawk lead, its first of the game, with 3:31 remaining in the second quarter.
5:09 p.m.: Plex Watch! Update No. 2: He's in!
Maybe it was because his replacement starter, Dominek "Hasek" Hixon just made a splendid punt return, but at 11:27 of the second quarter and on the Football Giants' fourth possession, Plaxico Burress was allowed to join the offense on the field. Due to Hixon's return after the Steelers' Mitch Berger punted from his end zone, Noo Yawk was able to get another pop-up field goal of 35 yards (or one yard for each year since, what, fourth grade?) for yes-he's-still-kickin' John Carney. Stillers still lead, 7-6.
4:57 p.m.: Noo Yawk's Brandon Jacobs was credited with a 1-yard touchdown plunge on third down, at 13:26 of the second quarter. But, after seeing a replay on the big board and hearing the Heinz Field crowd roar, not to mention listening to his assistants with replay access in the press-box booth, Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling. Challenge upheld. Jacobs' elbow hit the turf, downing him at the half-yard line, thanks to a tackle by James Farrior and Troy Polamalu. On fourth down, Jacobs was repelled again, running behind his right guard and tackle, running into Gary Clark, James Farrior, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and a host of retro mustard-on-black jersies. Giants coach Tom Coughlin, not to be outdone by counterpart Tomlin, challenged the ruling. And, upon further review, the play stood as called, and Coughlin and the Giants were charged with the timeout.
We would like to challenge the challenge. . . , but referee Bill Carollo never saw the previously owned napkin we threw.
4:51 p.m.: End of first quarter: Steelers 7, Giants 3, but the Giants are driving nicely, at the Steelers' 15.
BTW: Ben Roethlisberger reached 12,872 passing yards thus far in his career, for third place behind Terry Bradshaw and Kordell Stewart, whom Big Ben is likely to pass by quarter's, if not game's, end.
4:37 p.m.: The Football Giants marched 57 yards in 11 plays and 6 minutes, 36 seconds, all for a 26-yard field goal (or one yard for every year he has been outta high school) from the antiquated John Carney, whose leg we swear creaked when he made the less than pretty kick.
Carney, not to be confused for the candidate for governor in Delaware by the same name, is old enough (44) to be the daddy of no fewer than 28 guys on the Steelers' roster. He is old enough to have kicked for Tampa Bay when Ray Perkins coached there and orange Bruce the Buccaneer graced their helmets. He is old enough to be the last Lou Holtz-coached player at Notre Dame still playing in the NFL -- and you didn't know Dr. Lou had a gig before South Carolina and ESPN?
Carney's Golden Domer helmet?
And he supposedly is old enough to be the last player still active from the 1987 Replacements. No active NFL player is older. Heck, Art Carney might be younger, and "The Honeymooners" co-star died five years ago.
4:26 p.m.: Using different formations on each play -- holy two-tights to start the game and a Limas Sweed sighting two snaps later -- the Steelers rushed downfield in four plays for the opening score, 7-0.Max Starks, replacing the ailing Marvel Smith, fared nicely against Mathias Kiwanuka, who is no Michael Strahan.
And, in honor of the sackmeister who retired after the Super Bowl and stayed that way following Osi Umenyiora's season-ending knee injury in August:
4:17 p.m.: Aaon Smith, missing all week due to an undisclosed family matter, started today as reported in Breaking News earlier by America's No. 1 Pro Football Writer Ed Bouchette. And, as noted below, Plex stood on the sidelines in a visor and watched the Giants offense open te game without him.
3:56 p.m.: Plex Watch! Update No. 1!
Seems the big fella -- the fellow slapped last week with (beat that, Hines Ward) $45,000 in NFL fines for comments to a head linesman and post-game comments about officiating -- is wearing out his welcome in Greater Gotham. Check out General Manager Jerry Reese's response, or lack thereof, in the New York Daily News' live blog.
And how about this fan response on the NJ.com Giants blog: Jerzeerj56 wrote, "Wow. The soap opera continues with Plaxico Burress. What are the chances this guy is wearing a Giants uniform this time next sesaon. . . . Get rid of this clown and move on with the young receivers." And, to think, just eight months ago, Plex caught the Super Bowl-winning pass.
A referee inactive: Head linesman John Schleyer called in sick. So, in a reconfigured six-man crew, back judge Bob Wagner assumes the bulk of the head linesman's responsibilities.
3:31 p.m.: Seen Column item -- The General is in da hizzy. Robert Montgomery Knight, also known as Bob Knight, is in the press box to watch today's Giants-Steelers fray. Knight, you may recall from Gerry Dulac's fine report from Super Bowl XL (a story that, alas, we cannot find in our own Post-Gazette archives), is old buds with defensive coordinator and fellow long-ago Ohio schoolboy star Dick Lebeau.
3:20 p.m.: Plex Watch! If this were local television, we'd have some nifty graphic to flash on the screen. Otherwise, the best this blog's budget can afford to do is report the news: Ex-Steelers spiking sensation and fan target Plaxico Burress will not start today.
Domenik "Hasek" Hixon has been announced as the starting receiver for Burress, being penalized by Coach Tom Coughlin for missing a neck-injury treatment Saturday morning before the Football Giants left Noo Yawk/Joisey. Supposedly, Burress will only miss the first series or so.
By the way, Plex in pregame warmups exchanged pleasantries with some old Steelers pals. He crossed the 50 on a catch from Eli Manning and met with Hines Ward, working up and down the field on short passes from Ben Roethlisberger -- who also playfully took a threatening step toward Burress. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians later came over to chat up Plex, probably to remind him to have a nice Mother's Day. . . like the one that Plex once stated as the reason he was missing at a mini-Camp Cahr.
3:04 p.m.: Inactive for today are:
The Steelers -- receiver Santonio Holmes (police blotter), suspended by Coach Mike Tomlin after his marijuana-cigar charge/summons; surgically repaired cornerback Bryant McFadden (arm), halfback Willie Parker (knee); linebacker Keyaron Fox; offensive lineman Tony Hills; starting left offensive tackle Marvel Smith (back); defensive end Orpheus Roye; and rookie Dennis Dixon is the third quarterback.
The world champeens -- place-kicker Lawrence Tynes (giving way to 114-year-old John Carney); cornerback R.W. McQuarters; running back Danny Ware; cornerback Sam Madison; linebacker Gerris Wilkinson (knee); offensive lineman Adam Koets; receiver Sinorce Moss; defensive end Jerome McDougle.
And, of course, you are inactive, if you're sitting on your duff -- or sipping on your Duff's -- reading this.
So what this all means: Max Starks will start for Smith, Mewelde Moore for Parker and Nate Washington for Holmes. Bryan Kehl will start for Wilkinson. And, on Saturday, linebacker Patrick Bailey was promoted to the active roster and special-teamer/linebacker Donovan Woods was released to make room.