X's and O's

<b>QUARTERBACK</b> <br> Eli Manning made what was probably his prettiest throw as a Giant late in the third quarter. Manning's perfect pass down the center of the field landed in WR David Tyree's arms while Tyree was in stride, and the 49-yard gain got the Giants to Pittsburgh's 36-yard line.

Earlier, however, Manning strangely bounced a short screen throw to FB Jim Finn on a third-and-eight play from the Giants' 31, with about four minutes left in the first half. Manning placed his two-yard TD toss to TE Jeremy Shockey where only Shockey could catch it in the first quarter. Bottom Line: Manning outplayed Roethlisberger when everyone was watching.


RB Tiki Barber picked off blitzing RILB Larry Foote to afford Manning more time to complete a second 17-yard pass to Toomer on the Giants' final scoring drive. FB Jim Finn flattened Foote to create a huge hole on Barber's TD run two plays later. After back-to-back unimpressive performances, in which he looked like a tired tailback, Barber also showed some explosion in bursting through a huge hole on the left side for a 35-yard gain. Barber's big run midway through the first quarter moved the Giants from their own 45 to Pittsburgh's 20, and the Giants scored their second touchdown five plays later. Bottom Line: Barber appeared fresher than he did in their previous two games.


Split end Amani Toomer made a tremendous leaping catch on one of the rare Manning misfires, a grab that went for 17 yards on a third-and-eight play from midfield early in the fourth quarter. Toomer's catch extended a drive that resulted in Barber's one-yard score four plays later. Diving TE Jeremy Shockey beat LILB James Farrior toward the back corner of the east end zone and made a nice catch on Manning's soft toss for a two-yard TD that put the Giants ahead 14-7 with 4:02 left in the first quarter. Flanker Ike Hilliard showed some elusiveness in avoiding two Steelers defenders for a 15-yard gain that set up Barber's aforementioned TD. Bottom Line: They helped much more than they did in Baltimore.


Their pass protection was very good against an aggressive, effective defense. Bottom Line: Manning WAS NOT SACKED.


LDE Osi Umenyiora blasted RB Jerome Bettis in the backfield for a one-yard loss on a first-and-10 play from the Giants' 15 late in the first quarter. Umenyiora was very active otherwise, too, with 13 total tackles (eight solos) and one of the Giants' three sacks of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Giants' three other starters along the defensive line combined for 11 total tackles. Bottom Line: Umenyiora should serve Strahan well next season.


WLB Nick Greisen stuffed RB Jerome Bettis for no gain on a third-and-two play from the Giants' 4 late in the first half. The tackle forced the Steelers, already ahead 17-14, to instead kick a 21-yard FG. Greisen also blew through the middle of Pittsburgh's offensive front for an eight-yard sack of Roethlisberger on the play prior to Roethlisberger's 35-yard touchdown throw to Antwaan Randle El. Bottom Line: Greisen has been the Giants' most productive linebacker down the stretch.


RCB Will Peterson reached around WR Hines Ward and knocked away a Roethlisberger toss to him on a third-and-10 play from the Giants' 18-yard line with 4:24 left in the third quarter. The play prompted Pittsburgh to take just three points on a 36-yard FG by K Jeff Reed. Peterson adeptly poked away a Roethlisberger pass attempt to Ward that negated what would've been at least a 25-yard reception down the Giants' sideline in the second quarter as well. LCB Will Allen afforded Ward too much of a cushion on back-to-back plays late in the first half, which allowed Ward to record 10- and 20-yard receptions that led to a 21-yard FG by Reed. On the second Ward catch, Allen got completely turned around, which Ward exploited. Allen stopped covering Randle El on a first-and-10 play from Pittsburgh's 36 late in the first quarter. The coverage lapse enabled a pressured Roethlisberger to find a wide-open Randle El for a 39-yard gain. The Steelers settled for Reed's 33-yard FG six plays later. SS Brent Alexander missed a tackle on FB Verron Haynes just behind the line of scrimmage, which led to an eight-yard gain on a third-and-nine play from the Giants' 42 midway through the second quarter. Bottom Line: There were too many receivers open deep down the field.


KR Willie Ponder outran persistent SS Troy Polamalu and tiptoed for the final 25 yards along the Steelers' sideline for his game-opening, 91-yard touchdown return. Ponder also adeptly avoided two more Steelers while walking that tightrope. Ponder spun out of a tackle attempt by backup LCB Ricardo Colclough to add 10 yards to a 33-yard return on Pittsburgh's second kickoff, too. P Jeff Feagles averaged only 34 yards on three punts, two of which went for 31 and 26 yards, respectively. Bottom Line: Ponder was spectacular.


The challenge Tom Coughlin won late in the fourth quarter saved the Giants 25 yards in field position following a controversial interception by LCB Willie Williams. But Coughlin's decision to attempt a two-point conversion following Barber's one-yard score wasn't wise. Manning was sacked on the play and the Steelers' ensuing TD, a one-yard run by Bettis, put them ahead 33-30. A conventional conversion would've left the Giants down two after Bettis' touchdown, thus a FG by K Steve Christie would've won the game instead of tying it. Bottom Line: Coughlin listened to Manning's concerns earlier in the week and it helped.

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