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Monday, Dec. 23, 2013

Pittsburgh Steels One Away; Packers fall 38-31

Looking Pack: Week 16

green bay packers at pittsburgh steelers allen 2013
Jim Biever / Packers.com
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Last time the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers met, the iconic franchises with rich winning histories were vying for victory in Super Bowl XLV. While not quite the same immense international stage as that unforgettable (try as Steelers faithful may) title game, Sunday’s snowy Lambeau Field soirée saw two postseason hopefuls essentially playing for their playoff lives—barring conditional help from other teams, that wasn’t yet certain. As can be expected from a pair of classic organizations, this latest matchup found Green Bay and Pittsburgh locked in a stalemate for much of the rough and ugly contest. However, crucial late-game mistakes and suspect defense put the game out of the Packers’ reach, while putting the team’s playoff hopes temporarily in limbo and keeping the Steelers’ faint hope in tact as Pittsburgh bested Green Bay 38-31.

After the teams exchanged punts on their first possessions, Green Bay was the first to find the end zone, as Matt Flynn found Jarrett Boykin for an athletic five-yard touchdown grab around Steelers corner Cortez Allen. Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh’s next drive would end when Ben Roethlisberger threw a dot to Emmanuel Sanders from a yard out. From there, a first half in which Green Bay racked up more than 200 total yards of offense (75 of those rushing) would bare little fruit. Yet as the half drew to a close, Eddie Lacy trotted 14 yards for a leaping touchdown within the two-minute warning. Some faulty Packers special teams play resulted in a 46-yard return by Sanders on the subsequent kickoff, which essentially handed the Steelers and field goal with under a minute in the second quarter to reduce Green Bay’s lead to 14-10.

In the third quarter, Pittsburgh started the half with a bit of trickery. Punter Matt McBriar kept what would’ve been another stalled Steelers drive alive with an unexpected pass to 500th-string tight end David Paulson that went for 30 yards. Adding yardage from the Jake Stoneburner roughing the passer penalty, Roethlisberger quickly made good on the successful fake with a 13-yard touchdown scramble that set the tone for the remaining minutes. After the Packers would take the lead or force a turnover on defense, either the offense would hand the ball right back to Pittsburgh—you’d be hard-pressed to find a more boneheaded play than Flynn’s third quarter pass that was essentially a gift-wrapped touchdown pass to Allen, on an effortless interception for a touchdown—or the defense would fold to permit Pittsburgh to take full advantage of the short field Flynn or the uncharacteristically-off Tim Masthay gave them. Combine that with the loss of Lacy and Clay Matthews, and it’s no wonder Pittsburgh pulled away in the waning moments.

Fittingly, it was a careless Flynn fumble at Green Bay’s own 17 with under two minutes to play that proved the difference. From there, the Steelers milked the clock and forced Packers timeouts before Le’Veon Bell capped off a 124-yard rushing day with the go-ahead touchdown. Micah Hyde kept the game in reach with a 70-yard return to put the Packers in business with (on would think) more than enough time to go 30 yards. Sadly, Flynn’s inexperience and a false start called on Don Barclay (that was actually T.J. Lang) kept Green Bay from coming out ahead in this sloppy, mistake-laden game.

Fortunately for the Packers, they’ll live to play another day. A Chicago Bears slaughter by the Eagles late Sunday night makes next week’s Packers/Bears border battle one for the division title and a home playoff game. With some good luck to offset the less-than-impressive showing against the Steelers, it’s almost like Sunday never happened.


Player Of The Game (Offense) – Eddie Lacy

Lacy was injured in the second half, but before his departure, he still amassed a good stat line. He tallied 84 rushing yards (90 total) with 5.6 yards per carry and a pair of touchdown runs. James Starks somewhat spelled Lacy, yet the rookie rusher’s absence hurt the Packers near the end of the game. James jones also had nine receptions, accounting for 84 yards.

Player Of The Game (Defense/Special Teams) – Micah Hyde

With the Packers defense, once again, unable to do its part to put Green Bay over the top, the late near-heroics of rookie returner was enough to warrant this default mention. His 70-yard return on the final drive made the notion of a Packers comeback possible. Hyde has 167 combined yards on five kickoff returns. He also was involved in five tackles on defense. That said, if Hyde’s final return wouldn’t of happened, we’d be talking about A.J. Hawk’s six tackles and leaping interception instead.

Up next: Visiting the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Dec.29 at 3:25 p.m.