Green Bay’s heartbreaking 28-31 loss in the closing seconds in Pittsburgh makes the Packers’ road map to earning their ninth consecutive playoff berth a monumental task indeed.
Dropping to less than .500 for the first time this season, at 5-6, Green Bay most likely will need to win its final five games of the season while receiving help in the crowded NFC playoff race to continue playing into January.
It was a game reminiscent of the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers in 2010 when they faced the 14½-point favorite New England Patriots. The Matt Flynn-led Packers, the replacement for the injured Rodgers, narrowly lost to the Patriots in primetime by a nearly identical score to Sunday’s game, 31-27. However, Green Bay went on to win their final two games of that season, finished at 10-6, and made a playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl XLV title.
While the Steelers were pegged as a two-touchdown favorite against the Packers in last week’s Sunday Night Football matchup, Green Bay surprised many with a fast start in Pittsburgh. Thanks to a strong performance by quarterback Brett Hundley and the offense, Green Bay was able to keep the game close into the final seconds.
Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field on their opening possession to take an early 6-0 lead following a one-yard touchdown pass and a missed extra point on a 12-play drive that took nearly half of the first quarter.
Green Bay answered back with two touchdowns in the quarter; a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Randall Cobb and a 54-yard screen pass to Jamaal Williams to give Green Bay a 14-6 advantage. Pittsburgh tied the game at 14 with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant and an ensuing two-point conversion.
Opening the second half, Green Bay and Pittsburgh traded scores with Hundley and Roethlisberger each throwing for their third touchdown pass of the game, bringing the game to a 21-21 tie going into the final quarter.
Roethlisberger tossed his fourth touchdown pass to give the Steelers a 28-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Hundley and the Packers were able to answer back with a 12-play, 77-yard drive that concluded with Williams scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run. On that drive, Hundley helped the Packers to convert a key fourth-and-six deep in Steelers’ territory with a little more than two minutes to play that led to the tying score.
The Green Bay defense was able to stop Pittsburgh and return the ball to the Packers’ offense. However, the offense was unable to drive the ball nor run the clock to force overtime.
Following a Green Bay punt, Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on a stellar sideline catch that brought the Steelers into Green Bay territory with just 13 seconds to play. Three plays later, Chris Boswell connected on a 53-yard field goal as time expired to give Pittsburgh the victory.
Although the Packers’ overall performance against one of the AFC’s top two teams gave fans a glimmer of hope, it leaves Green Bay needing to play at that level for the remainder of the season, with Rodgers possibly slated to return in the coming weeks, to retain that hope.
The Packers will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday in what has been historically dubbed as “The Battle of the Bays.” From 1977, one year after the Buccaneers joined the NFL, to 2001, Tampa Bay and Green Bay were regular opponents within the NFC Central.
Green Bay will need convincing victories over Tampa Bay (4-7) and Cleveland (0-11) in the coming weeks to set up for the possible return of Rodgers and to finish out the final three games of the season against Carolina (8-3), Detroit (6-5), and Minnesota (9-2).