The Packers passed a major test in Pittsburgh Sunday night, showing resolve, grit and toughness in the face of adversity. But when the Steelers were able to move down the field in 17 seconds to kick the game winning field goal, it likely ended the team’s hopes for a ninth straight playoff berth.
With five losses in the last six games, it seems preposterous to even think about the post season right now; so let’s focus for a moment on what we saw at Heinz Field. We saw a young quarterback bounce back in a huge way against one of the top three defenses in the league. We saw a rookie running back take advantage of his opportunity and show his ability as a runner and a receiver. We saw a defense that was ultimately overmatched by the game’s best running back-receiver duo.
And that, ultimately, was the difference in this one. The Packers defense had no answer for Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. With Kevin King limited with his shoulder injury and Damarius Randall missing much of the game dealing with cramps, the secondary found itself overmatched by those two playmakers, Of course, it would have helped if the Pack could have gotten a semblance of a pass rush on Big Ben, who had oodles of time in the pocket all night.
Blake Martinez, Mike Daniels and Morgan Burnett stood out for the defense, but they weren’t enough to prevent the potent Steelers from making big plays late. When the Packers forced a punt in the final 90 seconds, it looked like we were headed for overtime, but the final offensive series was a nightmare. It began with a helmet to helmet hit by TJ Watt on Hundley that wasn’t called, but caused the team to lose some valuable time getting ready for its next play. When Williams went out of bounds on a second down carry, it opened the door for the Steelers to steal the game in regulation.
There’s not much you can do when Brown makes a sideline catch like he did and you have to give their kicker credit for knocking in a 53 yarder to win it. The Packers did a lot of things right in this one, but a couple of mistakes in the final 60 seconds cost them.
Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for getting Hundley turned around and having his undermanned team ready to compete against a team that’s now 20-3 at home in prime time with Ben at QB. But McCarthy’s decision to try a 57 yard field goal in the third quarter was infuriating–it didn’t cost the Pack the game, but it gave the Steelers a ton of momentum, tying the game at 21-21. The Pack would not lead again.
When the Steelers took the lead 28-21 midway through the fourth quarter, it looked like curtains. But Hundley engineered his most impressive drive, a 12-play beauty that included a fourth down conversion and was punctuated by a Williams touchdown run. That drive spoke volumes about Hundley’s growth, doing it on that stage against that defense.
But ultimately, a moral victory means nothing to a group of players who have grown accustomed to playing deep into January. Even if the Packers win the next two to improve to 7-6 and Rodgers comes back for the final three, they would need to win out and hope teams like the Falcons, Seahawks, Lions and Panthers stumble a few times along the way.
This may not be the Pack’s year, but coming off two miserable, embarrassing losses at Lambeau the last three weeks, it was heartening to see the team play as well as it did in Pittsburgh. For Hundley, it was a major step forward and might cause another GM to come calling before the draft next spring–especially if he can follow up with strong games the next two weeks against teams the Packers should beat.
As for the playoffs, it would take a miracle. This team doesn’t appear to have what it takes to ‘run the table.’ But for one night, we saw a Packers team compete like we expect them to.
I didn’t think they had that in them.