Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the first half against the New York Giants in the NFL season opener for both teams at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

Los Angeles (AFP) - Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes in his first game in a year as the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants 26-16 in the NFL’s Monday night season opener.

Roethlisberger, who played in just two games in 2019 before needing season-ending elbow surgery, completed 21 of 32 passes for 229 yards in the empty Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

“I am just so excited, I am just thankful,” Roethlisberger said. “I told the guys in the locker room before the game that I’m back because of them.

“I don’t need to accomplish anything personally any more. It’s about being with a defence that I think is as good as any I have ever played with, skill guys that are young and fun to play with and then, of course my line, who I love to death and they love me.

“They are the reason I came back to play.”

The Steelers need Roethlisberger to return to his 2018 form if they are to make the playoffs in the American Football Conference.

Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster (10 yards) and James Washington (13) in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 16-10 half-time lead.

The scoring toss to Washington came with seven seconds left after the Steelers travelled 78 yards on eight plays.

“Us being out there right before half having two minutes to go down out points on the board it was like ‘OK that is the Ben we know’,” Smith-Schuster said. “Being able to go down and have those points on the board [on that] drive – that is what we do.”

Smith-Schuster caught two touchdown passes, while Benny Snell rushed for a career-high 113 yards on 19 carries for the Steelers, who finished 8-8 last season.

Quarterback Daniel Jones was 26-for-41 for 279 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Giants, who played their first game under 38-year-old rookie head coach Joe Judge.

- ‘I have to be better’ -

The Steelers defence smothered Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who finished with just six yards on 15 carries but did have six receptions for 60 yards.

“I have to be better,” Barkley said. “I have to be better for the team. We have to get the running game going.”

Darius Slayton caught six passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns for the Giants.

The New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers each made anti-racism statements before their Monday showdown at MetLife Stadium.

The Steelers held a long white banner that read “Steelers Against Racism” during the national anthem. Tight end Eric Ebron was among the players who held their fist in the air.

The Giants had 20 players kneel during the national anthem.

Giants owner John Mara had initially said he would like his players to stand for the American anthem but then had a change of heart and said, “if you decide taking a knee is the right thing to do, I’m going to support your right.”

In the late game, Stephen Gostkowski snapped a dreadful spell of four missed kicks, booting the game-winning field goal with 17 seconds left to lift the Tennessee Titans to a 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos.

Gostkowski nailed the 25-yarder for the victory after missing field goal attempts from 47, 44 and 42 yards as well as an extra point.

“He’s made a lot of big kicks in his career so I had a lot of confidence in him,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill completed 29 of 43 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, Derrick Henry rushed for 116 yards and Corey Davis had seven receptions for 101 yards in the win.

Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans was ejected in the first quarter for punching Broncos tight end Jake Butt.

Quarterback Drew Lock was 22 of 33 for 216 yards and a score and Melvin Gordon ran for 78 yards and a touchdown for Denver.

The Broncos lost running back Phillip Lindsay to a foot injury in the first half.