EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ben Roethlisberger did a very Pittsburgh thing in his return to the lineup, riding the Steelers' defense and running game to victory.
Oh, Big Ben did plenty to help the cause. Roethlisberger, who missed the final 14 games last season after elbow surgery, threw for three scores in a 26-16 win over the New York Giants at an empty and eerie MetLife Stadium on Monday night.
The keys, though, were several defensive plays and the running of backup Bennie Snell, who rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries — his first 100-yard performance in his second NFL season. His extra workload came after starting running back James Conner left in the second half with an ankle injury.
“We have talked openly about the maturation process and things you can expect from a second-year player,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “and he’s showed signs of that from the very beginning of this process. He is a quality player and one that is maturing and emerging, and one who answered the bell when called upon.”
The defense, while not quite on the level of the famed Steel Curtain, was plenty stingy and physical. It not only held Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries, it also swarmed him in the backfield nearly all night.
Three Steelers stars helped Pittsburgh get its first touchdown. All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt made a clever interception at the New York 36 in the second quarter. Roethlisberger beat a blitz with a perfect throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard score. Chris Boswell’s extra point hit the upright, leaving the Steelers behind, 10-9.
They got the lead with seven seconds remaining in the half as Roethlisberger connected with James Washington, who dived into the end zone for a 13-yard score. Boswell made the PAT this time, and added a 36-yard field goal early in the final quarter. That came following the night’s biggest play.
Even though the Pittsburgh defense broke down as the Giants marched 87 yards on 19 plays in just under nine minutes in the third quarter, it still came up with a major stop. Bud Dupree pressured quarterback Daniel Jones as he rolled left from the 4 and deflected his pass. Edge rusher Cam Heyward practically made a fair catch in the end zone for the interception.
“I want to make a play for my team. I saw Bud laying him down,” Heyward said. "I tried to make a good play and float to the ball.
“We got to be an opportunistic defense. We got sacks by guys who don’t usually get sacks and interceptions by guys who don’t usually get interceptions.”
Roethlisberger then took Pittsburgh 62 yards for the field goal and a 19-10 lead. He hit Smith-Schuster again for a 10-yard touchdown and a 26-10 lead before New York got a late TD.