Seats? Empty. Crowd Noise? Artificial. Giants? Still Bad.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Under regular circumstances, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey would have been awash within the blues and reds worn by the home followers. But towards the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers opened their seasons throughout the drab grey inside of the stadium.

There was a low hum of synthetic crowd noise and music piped in to assist recreate a semblance of a typical recreation. But the true sense of normalcy got here from the end result. The Giants, who had scraped collectively solely 12 wins of their final three seasons mixed, performed exhausting for brand new coach, Joe Judge, however the Steelers’ superior expertise ensured the guests received, 26-16, in one of the crucial uncommon video games ever performed within the Meadowlands.

No followers have been allowed in beneath native restrictions because of the pandemic, and any stress that may have been generated by pregame protests towards racial injustice and police brutality have been met solely by the sound of the nationwide anthem.

About a dozen Giants gamers knelt through the tune, and the Steelers held a banner that learn “Steelers Against Racism.” Most of the Pittsburgh gamers stood whereas tight finish Eric Ebron raised a fist.

And then the sport went forward. But even with out the followers to assist generate the vitality that so many gamers feed on, many gamers mentioned that after play started, it was almost enterprise as standard.

“It’s a blessing,” mentioned Saquon Barkley, the Giants operating again. “We were still able to go out and play the game we love.”

But it was additionally a heavy battle for Barkley, who spent a lot of the sport absorbing hits and tackles within the backfield towards a powerful protection that was designed particularly to cease him. He had 15 carries for under 6 yards because the Steelers stacked their entrance line after which introduced Barkley down.

The recreation was additionally the Giants’ first beneath Judge, and the primary for the reason that two-time Super Bowl successful quarterback Eli Manning retired after final season. Manning’s alternative, Daniel Jones, seemed a lot the best way a proficient second-year quarterback is predicted to look. He made some glorious throws and runs, and confirmed command of the offense at instances. But he additionally threw two interceptions, considered one of which turned the sport on its axis.

It got here 18 performs into a powerful third-quarter drive that started deep in Giants territory with the Steelers main, 16-10. Jones improvised two good runs of his personal and likewise accomplished a nervy 3-yard go to the left, towards the grain, to Barkley on fourth-and-1 to maintain the drive alive.

Credit…Michael Noble Jr. for The New York Times

But on the 19th play, with the Giants on the Pittsburgh 3-yard line, Jones rolled to his left with Steelers outdoors linebacker Bud Dupree bearing down on him with menacing intent. Jones made an ill-conceived go try as Dupree appeared to make contact with Jones’s arm and the ball fluttered excessive within the air and got here down within the arms of Steelers defensive deal with Cameron Heyward simply contained in the objective line for a touchback.

The lack of followers might have taken away the atmosphere from the sport, however it could even have saved Jones from a showering of boos after that specific debacle.

“I’ll have a chance to go back and look at it and learn from it,” mentioned Jones, who threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns to go together with his interceptions. “But I can’t make that mistake in those situations.”

The Steelers then marched down the sphere for a subject objective that elevated their result in 19-6, and added a landing to place the sport out of reach as they scored 23 straight factors. Only a late landing by the Giants made the rating seem extra palatable, however Judge lauded the spirit exhibited by his gamers, even in an empty constructing.

“I’m proud of the way the team fought for 60 minutes,” Judge mentioned after his debut. “That was something I really wanted to see. I wanted to see a team that played together for 60 minutes and fought regardless of score, circumstance or situation, and I saw that.”

Judge, the aggressive, tough-talking former particular groups coach for the New England Patriots, was employed in January to interchange Pat Shurmur after the Giants have been 4-12. He ran a tricky coaching camp however earned plaudits from gamers by becoming a member of in a few of their team-bonding workouts, like diving in a puddle of mud throughout a fumble restoration drill.

Credit…Michael Noble Jr. for The New York Times

On Monday, he additionally demonstrated solidarity together with his gamers through the enjoying of the “Star Spangled Banner.” As he stood with a protecting masks protecting his face, he positioned one hand on the shoulder of Jabrill Peppers and the opposite on the shoulder of Dalvin Tomlinson, who have been each kneeling.

This is more likely to be a transition yr for the Giants, however the protection, one of many massive query marks of the staff — particularly the injury-depleted secondary — confirmed some resolve towards a Steeler staff brimming with as a lot expertise as optimism.

Pittsburgh is taken into account top-of-the-line groups within the A.F.C., secondary to the likes of Kansas City Chiefs or the Baltimore Ravens as challengers for convention supremacy, particularly with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, the veteran quarterback who performed solely two video games final yr earlier than surgical procedure in his proper elbow.

Roethlisberger, who admitted to a heavy dose of nerves earlier than the sport, began slowly earlier than discovering his groove towards the top of the primary half when he took the Steelers on a medical eight-play, 78-yard drive in a single minute, 25 seconds. He capped it with a 13-yard landing go to James Washington.

Benny Snell Jr. ran for 113 yards on 19 carries for Pittsburgh and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers star large receiver, caught 6 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

Mike Tomlin, the Steelers veteran coach who guided Pittsburgh to an 8-Eight report final season even with out Roethlisberger for a lot of it, was delighted to see his staff scrape away the rust and overcome the obstacles of enjoying their first recreation in entrance of an empty grey constructing.

“They generated their own enthusiasm and played with emotion,” Tomlin mentioned. “They were just happy to play the game and I thought it was reflected in the spirit in which they played.”