PITTSBURGH – Brett Hundley isn’t interested in moral victories.
He really wanted this one, he played like it, and the bitter disappointment in his voice afterward affirmed it.
With the unwavering faith of his coaches and teammates behind him, Hundley shook off an ugly four-turnover performance from a week ago and played one whale of a game Sunday night at Heinz Field.
The fact that it wasn’t enough was the lone drawback from a three-TD, 134.3-rating performance, which was only outdone by a spectacular throw and catch from future Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown with the game on the line.
Pittsburgh’s 31-28 walk-off win stings, and stings badly, but it should give Packer Nation belief that Hundley has a chance to pass the baton to Aaron Rodgers with the season still alive. The Packers are now in win-out mode in order to stretch the franchise’s eight-year playoff streak to nine, and Rodgers could – stress could – come back after two more games.
“I love my teammates, I’ve had so much support from them, and that’s why it hurts,” Hundley said, having gone through so many ups and downs through his first five NFL starts. “I’m blessed to play this game, but I wanted to win this game. It hurts a lot to lose a game like this.”
Still, against one of the AFC’s best, the “huge step” he took, to quote Mike McCarthy, was undeniable.
McCarthy said he felt Hundley didn’t take any chances and was more in sync with the when and why of the play-calling. Hundley said he did a better job not trying to do too much, force things, or get greedy.
The results were no turnovers and three long touchdown passes, the first to a wide-open Randall Cobb from 39 yards out that got his night started right.
“When you see a receiver open like that, sometimes you almost do a double take, trying to figure out where the defender is,” Hundley said. “I trusted that nobody was there.”
The timing was also much improved on a screen pass to running back Jamaal Williams that broke for a 54-yard TD, and on a laser-like throw to Davante Adams down the right sideline, with the fourth-year receiver weaving his way into the end zone for 55 yards in all.
The game-tying drive was as good as it gets, starting with a 25-yard catch-and-run by tight end Richard Rodgers that snapped the offense out of a late-game funk. Hundley needed a clutch fourth-down throw to Adams to keep the drive alive, and the poise and command he showed, on the road with the Terrible Towels waving, mattered as well.
“We needed it. Had to have it,” Hundley said of the 77-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. “When you’ve gotta have it, we put it in. We just didn’t convert on that last drive.”
The final missed opportunity clearly hung on his dejected face at the postgame podium. It’s fair to wonder if a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit gets called on the first-down sack whether Hundley doesn’t find a way to get the walk-off score Roethlisberger did.
He knows he had chances to put more pressure on the Steelers, though, particularly after two second-half takeaways by the defense. The two sacks to make Mason Crosby’s field-goal attempt too long, after getting a first down at the Pittsburgh 31, were most damaging.
The other turnover was followed by three straight incomplete passes.
“We should have put more points on the board,” Hundley said. “Those are things we wish we had back.”
But you don’t get them back, just like Hundley won’t get back last week’s game against Baltimore, when anything resembling the offensive performance in Pittsburgh would have been plenty to produce a victory.
“The name of the game is you have another opportunity each and every week, and you have to come put your best foot forward,” he said. “I didn’t like my performance last week, and I’ll try to the best of my ability to never let it happen again.
“I just want to give this team an opportunity to win. It felt like we’re close. We’re really close.”
They are, and now it’s up to Hundley to find the consistency that gives the Packers that chance to win each week, for however long he’s needed.
Hundley has seen what he can do against a top-flight defense, but it has to be his new standard now, not his peak. Because at 5-6, the Packers’ backs are officially against the wall.
“This one hurts, last week hurt, but this next one coming up is most important,” Hundley said. “We have to understand that and keep pushing.”
Complete game coverage: