This game announced to the rest of the NFL that the Steelers are for real. They will not be bullied. Neither by aggressive defenses like the Giants’, nor heroic fourth quarter come-back experts like Eli Manning. And not by the NFL’s Referees.
This game announced to a national audience that the Steelers have heart. The Steelers have determination. The Steelers will take both their opponents' and the Referees’ best punches, and just won’t quit.
This game defined the 2012 Steelers character.
Now we saw all 22 Steelers face the Super Bowl champs, and with Roger Goodell in attendance, shrug off inept refereeing, seething Giants, and spit into their collective eyes and refuse to quit.
When I first saw this game on the Steelers’ schedule, I wrote it off as a loss. These were the healthy Super Bowl champions; certainly the Steelers had to lose some games this season, and this was a logical and relatively harmless one to lose. Foolishly, I had assumed they would beat the Raiders and the Titans.
When they did not, I had my doubts about their character. If they couldn’t beat those two teams, how could they face Eli Manning and the Giants defensive front seven and prevail?
I labeled the Bengals game in Cincinnati a statement game, and the Steelers came through, but it wasn’t convincing.
Tonight, after the first several Steeler plays, I was getting excited. Redman was running with authority; Willie Colon, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey were dominating the LOS. While Ben was feeling pressure, and despite a couple of massive misses by Adams allowing Giants DE Justin Tuck to reach Ben, you could feel the Steelers team chemistry at work.
But then entered the NFL referees.
The ticky-tacky pass interference call on Keenen Lewis in the first quarter. A 40 yard gain for the Giants.
Then it was third and goal when the obscene miscarriage of justice perpetrated against Ryan Clark in the end zone occurred, with the personal foul call on Clark’s shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Victor Cruz giving the Giants first and goal to tie the game.
There was no helmet contact; the hit was not late.
There was absolutely no call for the flag, other than to offer nationally broadcasted incontrovertible proof that the persecution complex felt by the Steelers, and Steeler Nation as a whole, is not misplaced.
With injuries wiping out 2 of our 3 top draft picks this year; with Troy having been able to play only one full game so far this season; with Harrison still working his way back to playing shape during live games;
With Woodley’s hamstrings suspect at every snap, the Steelers were playing week to week with a patchwork of injured veterans and inexperienced rookies.
And despite the Refs starting from Week 1 of this season through tonight apparently having flags in hand on every deep pass thrown against the Steelers, the Steelers have overcome so much coming into this game.
But Henry Kissinger’s words ring more true than ever: "Even Paranoids have Enemies".
Numerous citizens of Steeler Nation decried statements made by Giants’ Justin Tuck, Victor Cruz and others highlighting their perception of the Steelers offensive line, or defensive backs, as "getting away with murder" on holding, or committing pass interference.
I scoffed at them, discounting the conspiracy theories that "the Refs were listening" to these statements; that the NFL wanted the Giants to win as a "feel good" move in the aftermath of SuperStorm Sandy and the devastation it laid across the New York/New Jersey metro area.
By half-time, I was ready with my roll of tin foil to wrap my head and my Terrible Towel in a protective coating of aluminum to fend off the anti-Steeler machinations of Darth Lord Goodell and his enslaved NFL Referee minions.
And then to start the second half, the Steelers seemed listless. Redman hesitating at the line, instead of plunging forward like he had done in the first half. The Giants defense rushing Ben, sacking Ben. Multiple three-and-outs. I was losing faith.
My paranoia was smoldering.
Then, with the Steelers inside the red zone in the fourth quarter, losing by three, Head Coach Mike Tomlin elects to go for a fake field goal instead of tying the game. And the Steelers failed to score, or even convert to a new set of downs.
My paranoia was blazing.
However, slowly but surely, the Steelers defense took control. Woodley and Timmons began to reach Manning, rushing his throws, and finally midway through the fourth quarter, actually sacking him.
And the Steelers offense? From the first snap of the game through and into the fourth quarter, they manhandled the Giants front seven.
Despite Mr. Tuck and his pre-game whining, despite the awesome ability of Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the Steelers offensive line would not relent, nor be denied.
On the Steelers final drive, leading by four, with the defense once again forcing a three-and-out, the first series started out like every other fourth quarter loss; third and long deep within Steeler territory. But Ben, the running backs, the linemen and the receivers; the entire Steeler offense rose up and imposed its will on these reigning Super Bowl champs.
Even the announcers took note that the Steelers offensive line was controlling the game, and how now in the fourth quarter, the Giants had could not muster enough fortitude to face down this offensive line.
So, unlike games past, this Steelers offense ran Redman left; ran Redman up the middle, and ran Redman right. Eating up yardage, gaining first downs, eating time off the clock until finally, they could run out the clock in the victory formation, a formation we have not witnessed for many years.
The Steelers are back. They are back and will not be denied. Not by injuries to Antonio Brown early in the game, not by the Super Bowl Champs, not by SuperStorm Sandy, and not by Roger Goodell and his Referees…
The Steelers are back. And the AFC North had better be ready.