GREEN BAY—The final moments were as chaotic as it gets, so there was no time to settle things down and reassess.
But the Packers’ offensive linemen felt the officials weren’t exactly efficient with the operation of a 10-second runoff and re-spot of the ball, which allowed for only one last play to try to tie the game, rather than possibly two.
That one play, an incomplete pass to Jarrett Boykin in the end zone from the Pittsburgh 6-yard line, ultimately ended a 38-31 loss to the Steelers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“The league office will let everybody know what was supposed to go down, so we’ll see,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said.
The confusion stemmed from Dietrich-Smith’s attempt to snap the ball before being told to wait as the final 10 seconds of the game began ticking away.
The Packers had reached the 1-yard line on a first-down run by James Starks, but right tackle Don Barclay was called for a false start -- replays showed it was actually right guard T.J. Lang -- on second down with 20 seconds left.
That put the ball back on the 6 and required a 10-second runoff, because the clock had been running before the penalty. Referee Carl Cheffers announced the clock would re-start at 10 seconds on his ready signal, and the Packers were at the line ready to snap it, but the umpire in the middle of the line told Dietrich-Smith to hold off.
“We were all up, all set, and he came up and told Evan to take his hand off the ball,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “Then we all kind of got up, and then he wound the clock. I think we were ready, and I think that took a few more seconds than it should have.”
The ball wasn’t snapped until only 3 seconds remained, and the clock was then at zero when Matt Flynn’s slant pass for Boykin sailed high and incomplete.
“It’s tough. It hurts,” Barclay said. “Especially when you’re sitting there ready to snap the ball and the ref was over our center not letting us. I don’t know what reason. We probably could have had two plays off if we could have snapped the ball when we were over it.”
Whether or not the chaos contributed to Flynn’s pass being off target is hard to say, but the Packers thought they gave themselves a good chance with the one play they ran.
“There was a lot of confusion. Whenever that situation comes up, I’ve never seen it run smooth with any team,” receiver Jordy Nelson said, referring to the 10-second runoff and the urgency that follows. “Matt took his time and got us into a play that allowed us to have an opportunity to score. We just didn’t complete it.”
Added left tackle David Bakhtiari: “The clock’s running, people are screaming. I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest situation.”
In the end, the killer was the false start, because the Packers were going to try to punch it in from the 1-yard line with Starks and instead had to throw. Dietrich-Smith took the blame for the penalty.
“That’s my fault,” he said. “That’s one of those things, it got really loud, I couldn’t really hear Matt, we were rushing trying to catch them off guard, I didn’t get the snap count 100 percent and snapped it late. I’ll take that one.”
That wasn’t the only damaging pre-snap penalty down the stretch for the Packers, though. With the score tied at 31 and the Steelers lining up for a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 1:35 left, outside linebacker Nick Perry jumped offside, giving the Steelers a first down at the 5.
One play later, the Steelers had second-and-goal on the 1 and the Packers burned their last timeout with 1:28 left. Pittsburgh then made an arguably huge tactical error, not kneeling on the ball twice to run the clock down and kick a walk-off, chip-shot field goal.
Instead, running back Le’Veon Bell ran it in for the TD with 1:25 left, so the Packers – who smartly appeared to let him score – still had a chance to tie. Perry’s offside penalty, though, did force Green Bay to score a TD rather than just kick a field goal to force overtime.
“It’s an undisciplined play,” said Perry, who added he thought he saw the ball move in the snapper’s hand, but he appeared to be the only defender who flinched. “I jumped, and they capitalized.”
Considering the late comebacks the Packers had put together in the last month, culminating in the 23-point rally at Dallas last week, the Packers walked off the field stunned that they weren’t the ones capitalizing at the end.
“Yeah, we felt like till the very end, especially the way this season is going, coming off of last week, that these are the kind of games we’ve been in and we planned on winning,” said linebacker A.J. Hawk, whose third-quarter interception helped the Packers rally from 10 points down to tie the game at 31.
“That’s why it was so tough to let that one get away, because it felt like, especially with all the craziness back and forth, that we were going to come out on top.”
Because they didn’t, the Packers lost control of their playoff fate, which rested in the hands of the Eagles on Sunday night.
“I say it all the time, we don’t want to sit here and count on help,” Hawk said. “But obviously to keep us alive, we need some help tonight.” Complete game coverage