Cruz In Midseason Form, Giants Top Steelers 18-13
Victor Cruz strolled into the end zone and thought for a moment about putting on his salsa dancing shoes. Two unenthusiastic steps later, he chucked the idea.
"I didn't want to give it the full gamut," Cruz said. "It's the preseason."
Besides, after missing organized team activities and minicamp during a contract dispute, the New York Giants' wide receiver is a little rusty on the celebration thing.
The catching touchdown passes from Eli Manning thing, however, remains just fine. Cruz pulled in a rainbow from the New York quarterback and ran by the Pittsburgh secondary for a 57-yard score in an 18-13 victory over the Steelers on Saturday night.
Cruz lined up in the slot then sprinted past William Gay and Troy Polamalu as Manning lofted a perfect strike that seemed to put any lingering resentment over his holdout to rest.
"You kind of feel like you're still in the swing of it, you still have your footing, you still have what it takes to be successful in this offense," Cruz said. "I think (Eli) read my body perfectly and put the ball where it needed to be. It felt good to be in midseason form so early on."
Manning completed 2 of 5 passes for 73 yards but produced scores in both series he was on the field.
"Good and bad," Manning said. "Hit a couple nice things. Sometimes that first game you just have to get back to getting used to knowing the defense can hit you now."
Not that Pittsburgh's starters came close on the game's biggest play. Manning had plenty of time to find Cruz, taking only a small nudge from outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley after the ball was in flight.
Playing behind a reconstituted offensive line, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't quite so fortunate. He was sacked once and knocked down a couple of times during his two series of work. Roethlisberger completed 4 of 8 passes for 36 yards, leading the Steelers to a field goal on his second possession.
"I thought we came out and ran the ball well," he said. "We want to establish an identity early of running the ball and I think we did a good job of that."
LaRod Stephens-Howling, returning to the town where he was a star in college, rushed for 40 yards on seven carries for the Steelers. Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell — Pittsburgh's second-round pick in April — did not play due to a sore left knee, though coach Mike Tomlin stressed it was only a precautionary measure.
Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, who are fighting Bell for the starting spot, didn't exactly separate themselves from the field. Redman ran twice for seven yards while Dwyer had 15 yards on six carries.
Tomlin's bigger concern were the wave of unusual mistakes in a game the felt like an extended scrimmage that happened to have over 50,000 people in attendance. Pittsburgh's special teams gave up a blocked punt and a botched handoff in the end zone in the second half turned into a safety. The Steelers also committed seven penalties — compared to just three for New York — and generated little after Roethlisberger when to the sideline to trade his helmet for a baseball cap.
"Just the Steelers beating the Steelers," Tomlin said. "Don't get me wrong, sometimes it can be characterized as part of August football but I'm not buying that. I think we can set the bar higher than that for the first time out."
Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley spent a portion of the offseason searching for middle ground after a somewhat bumpy 2012. Pittsburgh kept it conservative against the defense that finished a woeful 31st in the league last fall. Roethlisberger only went down the field once, but Antonio Brown was unable to keep his feet inbounds on what could have been a 20-yard touchdown pass.
While Bell sat out, Pittsburgh first-round pick Jarvis Jones made a splash. The rookie linebacker and heir apparent to James Harrison recovered a fumble in his first game as a pro.
New York, unlike Pittsburgh, has some definition on the depth chart at running back. The Giants gave the starting job to David Wilson when they let Ahmad Bradshaw leave in free agency. Wilson did little in two series of work, carrying five times for 16 yards.
The Giants sat several regulars due to injury, including defensive stars Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Rookie offensive tackle Justin Pugh also missed the game because of a concussion.