The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants gave a region left reeling by Superstorm Sandy just what it needed after days of dealing with devastation, power outages, no heat and long gas lines.
For a few hours Sunday, people in the New York metro area could watch two good football teams play a hard-fought game. It was chance to cheer and yell and scream and forget about the past six days.
The Steelers' 24-20 victory probably didn't please the majority of fans at MetLife Stadium, but this game was about more than football. It was about life and helping people cope with it.
It was sports at its best.
"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 after throwing for two touchdowns. "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."
The Giants (6-3) had come into the game hoping to use it as a platform to raise the spirits of the millions of people in New York and New Jersey who lost their homes, been displaced and had a lifetime of dreams shattered by the worst storm to hit the area in decades.
For three quarters they gave them hope, building a 20-10 lead on the play of its defense, highlighted by a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Michael Boley.
The Steelers (5-3), however, dominated the final quarter. A 51-yard pass and run by Mike Wallace got them within a field goal and Issac Redman capped a career-best 147-yard rushing performance with a game-winning 1-yard touchdown run with 4:02 to go.
New York's final attempt to win one for the region ended with a three-and-out, and the Steelers ran out the clock.
"We had a lot riding on the game," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "Everybody knows what has taken place this past week in this area. A lot of us have been affected ourselves. We wanted to come out and give this region a reason to put some smiles on people's faces. That's frustrating in itself and knowing you had the opportunity to beat a great football team at home, and let that slip through your hands.
"We've been a team known for finishing and when we take the lead into the fourth quarter and we don't sustain that, that's frustrating," Tuck added. "That's not us. We have to look at this thing tomorrow and come back next week and try to get to 7-3."
The Steelers had a lot to do with the Giants problems. Their defense limited Eli Manning to 125 yard passing, held the running game to 68 yards and did not allow New York to gain a first down in the final quarter.
Pittsburgh accomplished that despite traveling to New Jersey on Sunday — with the league's blessing — so those displaced by the storm would not be kicked out of their rooms.
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.
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."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin called the loss as disappointing as any in recent years.
"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," Coughlin said.
The Steelers weren't perfect. Roethlisberger's fumble after being sacked by Osi Umenyiora resulted in Boley's TD and an interception by Corey Webster led to the second of Lawrence Tynes' two field goals and penalties led to the other 10 points for the Super Bowl champions.
Another gaffe was 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.
However, the Steelers still found a way to win.
Giants tight end Martellus Bennett was philosophical about the loss.
"You always want to win and it was great as to how many people showed up with what was going on in the city and it was a hard-fought game," Bennett said. "I don't think they were let down. We did the same thing the city has been doing, which is fighting, fighting, fighting. Everybody has come back and we have to continue to fight. People in the city are continuing to fight and you can't win every battle, but you live to fight again."
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 ... Boley led the Giants with 10 tackles. ... New York had four sacks, with Tuck getting two.
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