GREEN BAY—Rookie Micah Hyde almost capped a wild and wacky day on special teams with what would have been the most memorable special teams play of the season for the Packers.
But Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas managed to chase Hyde down after a 70-yard kickoff return with less than 90 seconds left in Sunday’s game, preventing the dramatic run from going 101 yards to the house and tying up what became a 38-31 loss to the Steelers at Lambeau Field.
“(Number) 29 had a nice angle on me,” Hyde said. “I wish I could have busted into another gear, but I didn’t have one. I was pretty tired. That’s unfortunate.”
Also unfortunate was the Packers’ inability to finish the 31-yard drive needed for the tying touchdown, getting as close as the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.
But when Hyde broke into the clear and the 77,999 in attendance began thundering their encouragement, it appeared the Packers were on the verge of another unfathomable comeback, even after he was tackled.
“When I saw that happen, I thought it would be another moment,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “It didn’t quite go that way, but guys fought to the end, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Hyde’s kickoff return was the Packers’ longest of the season, a mark he set three different times in the game with earlier runbacks of 33 and 39 yards. That was only the tip of the iceberg on special teams in this game, though.
The Steelers had a 41-yard punt return by Antonio Brown and a 46-yard kickoff return by Emmanuel Sanders, and they also pulled off a fake punt, as punter Mat McBriar completed a 30-yard pass to tight end David Paulson to set up a TD.
“That was tough,” said Hyde, who was deep for the return. “I was 45 yards back, I saw the snap and I saw the punter roll to our left. I couldn’t really see what was going on. I just saw the ball in the air and just tried to make a play on it. It was a great call by them.”
The Steelers got a free first-and-goal late in the game when Packers linebacker Nick Perry jumped offsides, but the weirdest play happened on a Packers’ field-goal try in the third quarter.
Kicker Mason Crosby slipped a little with his plant foot and had a 23-yard try blocked by Steve McClendon. In the scrum to recover the ball, Pittsburgh’s Ziggy Hood was called for illegally batting the ball forward, giving the Packers a first-and-goal, which was converted into a touchdown.
“I don’t know that rule very well,” Crosby said. “That’s not one that happens all the time. I know batting is a penalty, but I didn’t know it would get us the ball back. I’m happy it did.”
The only reason it did is because the officials ruled that the Steelers had never established possession with a recovery. Replays showed they appeared to, however, with safety Ryan Clark scooping up the ball but then losing it when trying to lateral it to teammate William Gay. On the ground again, the ball was batted by Hood.
The Steelers tried to challenge the ruling that no possession had been established, but they were denied the ability to challenge the play.
It was one of the stranger sequences and rulings of the season, to be sure.
“You see the way weather can affect special teams, it’s difficult to play sometimes,” John Kuhn said. “They threw some punches and we threw some punches back.”
An old record falls: With 15 carries for 84 yards and two TDs, Packers running back Eddie Lacy broke John Brockington’s 42-year-old franchise rookie rushing record. Lacy now has 1,112 rushing yards on the season, topping Brockington’s 1,105 in 1971.
Playing on a bum ankle for the third straight game, Lacy was unable to finish the contest this time, re-aggravating his ankle injury late in the third quarter. That, combined with the tough loss, left Lacy disinterested in reflecting on the record right after the game.
“I wanted it to feel a little better,” he said, vowing to do whatever he could to be able to return to the lineup next Sunday in Chicago.
“He was a warrior out there,” right tackle Don Barclay said. “These past two weeks, going out there and fighting his butt off. He was great out there. Him and Starks, every week they bring it.”
James Starks replaced Lacy and added 10 carries for 47 yards with several Lacy-like tough runs.
“Starks comes in with an attitude and runs as hard as anyone out there,” receiver Jordy Nelson said.
More injuries: The Packers lost outside linebacker Clay Matthews when he appeared to re-injure his broken thumb on a sack of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The medical staff was seen examining the cast on Matthews’ hand when he came to the sideline.
Fellow outside linebacker Mike Neal also left the game briefly with a stinger, but returned to keep playing, and inside linebacker Brad Jones re-aggravated an ankle injury and tried to play on it some.
The Packers were getting perilously thin along the middle level of their defense.
“You hate to see those guys go down,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “When Clay went down, we knew right away it was probably his thumb.”
“It was a tough game for everybody,” Perry said. Complete game coverage