*The Giants' six-game winning streak ended Sunday with a 24-14 loss in Pittsburgh: *
The score was 24-14, a 10-point margin the Giants believe they should have erased on two possessions in which they traveled close to the Pittsburgh goal line – the all-important red zone – and walked off the field without scoring a point. Because of that, their six-game winning streak evaporated on a dreary day in southwestern Pennsylvania.**>> WATCH GIANTS VS. STEELERS HIGHLIGHTS**
"It really came down to those two red zone trips," said quarterback Eli Manning, who threw an interception to end one, and an incompletion that perhaps should have been caught to conclude the other. "We had no points off of it. The interception and then the fourth down, it's tough out there, but we got down there. We have been really good scoring touchdowns lately, the last three or four games we have been one hundred percent scoring touchdowns, but not today. Not just scoring touchdowns, not getting anything on two drives, that was kind of the game right there."
"We were there," guard Marshall Newhouse said. "There's not much more you can ask for to be in those situations, trying to convert.
"In games like this, those are the points. They have a humming offense over there, too. Those are the points that tie the game up, give us a lead and get us back in the game. This is a needed reality check about how we're executing. It's there. We have the people to do it. We've done it before. It's just critical times coming up with plays. That's really it. We have the guys to do it."
Look, it's not as if the Giants were an offensive juggernaut until they traveled inside the Steelers' 20-yard line. They had relatively meager totals of 234 total yards, 56 rushing yards, 178 passing yards, and 16 first downs. And they did take advantage of two advances into the red zone, when Manning threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Rashad Jennings in the third quarter and 1-yard to Sterling Shepard in the fourth (alas, with only 26 seconds remaining).
"It's just consistency," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We need to be more consistent. We need to take care of the ball better. That showed up again today. We had two turnovers. One of them was on fourth down, but we need to take care of the ball and play with consistency."
They didn't do that in the first half, which ended with the Giants trailing, 14-0 (on a safety, a touchdown followed by a failed 2-point conversion, and a field goal).
But the Giants put together a nice drive early in the second quarter, driving from their own 29 to the Pittsburgh 9, where they faced a second-and-four. Manning tried to hit tight end Larry Donnell in the end zone, but the pass was intercepted by linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who returned it 56 yards to the Giants' 40. Three plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown for an 11-0 lead.
"I tried to squeeze it in there," Manning said. "Good play. Lawrence Timmons has played a long time and made a lot of plays. I thought if you could get it high enough, to Larry Donnell, and kind of put it on that back shoulder a little bit. Lawrence Timmons got a little wider than I thought. I thought I could get it there. Any interception is a bad decision. It obviously hurts when it takes away points."
Trailing 14-0 in the third quarter, the Giants took possession on their own 40 after a Steelers punt. Two passes to Odell Beckham, Jr. totaling 30 yards and Paul Perkins' 18-yard run gave them a first down on the 12. Three plays later, it was fourth-and-one at the three. McAdoo, making what is now the characteristic aggressive call, went for it. But the play fizzled when tight end Will Tye couldn't hold Manning's pass at the goal line.
"They brought a lot of pressure," Manning said. "We didn't really have a hot for it just based on what the pressure was. Had pressure up the middle and tried to hit it quickly with them coming. I didn't see the final result of whether it got knocked out or dropped. I was getting hit at that point. Good call, good defensive call by them. "
The Giants quickly got the ball back when Eli Apple recovered Le'Veon Bell's fumble and scored two plays later on Manning's 13-yard pass to Jennings. But their thoughts were about the lost opportunity that preceded it.
"We had that one score with Rashad," Newhouse said. "We have plenty of other ways to get in the end zone, we just have to do it. From the receivers to the line, we all have to pick our game up a little bit more and execute. Just focus. There is less space to play with, we know that. They sink a lot with eight in coverage. We knew it was coming. We just need to do it. It's there to do it, we just have to do it."
Ironically, the winning team had just one trip inside the red zone, and came away with one of Randy Bullock's three field goals to end the first half. Roethlisberger threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ladarius Green in the third quarter, and Bullock added a field goal in the fourth.
The Steelers did have the NFL's best red zone defense entering the game, allowing touchdowns on just 41.7 percent of their opponents' possessions inside the 20.
"The better team won today," Beckham said.
But the Giants believe they can be the better team in the season's final four weeks, beginning next week at home against NFC East leader Dallas.
"We are good enough to compete," Manning said. "Getting possible touchdowns and instead no points. People say it's a game of inches and it's true there. We just have to improve and get better at some things. We got better on third down. We are good enough to compete. Defense is playing well, offense is going to make our plays and get some big plays. We just have to take advantage of when we get down to the red zone and get points."
View photos from the sidelines as the Giants take on the Steelers at Heinz Field