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NFL: Defense, Bennie Snell, Big Ben carry Steelers over Giants; Titans beat Broncos

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster celebrates with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster celebrates with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter on Monday in East Rutherford, N.J.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

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.

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.

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Three Steelers stars got them their first touchdown. All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt made a clever interception at the New York 36. Roethlisberger beat a blitz with a perfect throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard second-quarter score. Chris Boswell’s extra point hit the upright, leaving them behind 10-9.

They got the lead with 7 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.

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.

Titans 16, Broncos 14

Tennessee Titans place kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicks a go-ahead field goal.
Tennessee Titans place kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicks a go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos during the second half on Monday in Denver.
(Justin Edmonds / Associated Press)

New kicker Stephen Gostkowski avoided a disastrous debut with the Tennessee Titans in the nick of time.

The Titans escaped Denver with a 16-14 victory Monday night on Gostkowski’s 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds left after he’d missed four kicks, one in each quarter.

Gostkowski missed three field goals: wide left, wide right and a block, and he missed an extra point.

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Gostkowski never missed three field goals in a game during his 14 seasons in New England, where he won three Super Bowl rings, made four Pro Bowls and left this offseason as the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer.

On Thursday he joined the Titans, who had the worst field goal unit in the NFL last year when their first four kickers combined to connect on only 44.4% of field goals (8 for 18).

Although the final result was to his liking, surely his debut wasn’t.

The last Titans/Oilers kicker to miss three field goals and an extra point in a game was Skip Butler against the Jets in the 1977 season opener. And Gostkowski became the first kicker to miss three field goals and a PAT in the same game since Mason Crosby missed four field goals and a PAT for the Packers against the Lions in 2018.

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Gostkowski, who had made 87.4% of his kicks coming into the game, a percentage that ranked fifth-best in NFL history, missed a 47-yarder in the first quarter and Shelby Harris blocked his 43-yarder just before halftime. Gostkowski’s 42-yarder in the third quarter was wide left and he missed the PAT following Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown on Jonnu Smith’s catch from Ryan Tannehill on fourth-and-1 with 13:49 remaining.

Denver replied with a 75-yard drive, with Melvin Gordon taking it in from a yard out, and Brandon McManus’ extra point put the Broncos up 14-13 with 9 minutes left.

The Broncos punted on their next two possessions and the Titans made them pay with a 12-play, 83-yard, game-winning scoring drive.

The teams scuffled to a 7-all tie after an eventful first half that included an ejection, a goal-line stand and Gostkowski’s dismal debut four days after signing with the Titans. The 36-year-old Gostkowski left New England with 1,775 points over 204 games.

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Drew Lock threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant after Gostkowski’s first miss, and the Titans tied it on Tannehill’s 1-yard strike to MyCole Pruitt after a Denver turnover.

Gordon, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal in free agency, coughed up the ball at the Denver 23 on a hard hit by safety Kevin Byard, who leads the league with 17 interceptions since 2017 but had never forced a fumble. Jeffrey Simmons recovered for Tennessee.

The Broncos failed to punch it in on three tries from the Titans 1 in the second quarter. Lock overthrew a wide-open Nick Vannett, Gordon was stuffed for no gain and Lock’s shovel pass to Jake Butt came up a yard short of the goal line.

Butt was on the receiving end of Rashaan Evans’ punch that got the Titans linebacker ejected.

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There were no paying spectators but about 500 guests of players and coaches were in the stands as a sort of trial run for the Broncos’ next home game, against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay in two weeks, when 5,700 fans will be allowed into the 70,000-seat Empower Field at Mile High.


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