PITTSBURGH – This one hurts.
The Packers took one of the best teams in the AFC to the wire on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, but Steelers kicker Chris Boswell’s 53-yard walk-off field goal sent Green Bay home with a heartbreaking 31-28 defeat at Heinz Field.
“That’s a tough one to swallow there,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said moments after his team fell to 5-6. “We were one play short tonight.”
The Packers held leads at different times through three quarters and then had to rally for the tying touchdown in the fourth. But the valiant effort wasn’t quite enough, as the Steelers got one final possession with 17 seconds left from their own 30-yard line, and cashed in.
Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive began with an incredible 23-yard toe-tapping catch on the sideline by receiver Antonio Brown, who finished with 10 catches for 169 yards and two of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s four touchdowns.
At first glance, it appeared there was no way he got both feet down, but replay confirmed he dragged his back foot just as he caught it. Another 14-yard reception by Brown on the next play got Pittsburgh into field-goal range, and Boswell’s kick matched the longest ever made in Pittsburgh’s home stadium.
“Our guys battled, they fought,” McCarthy said. “We just came up short.”
The dramatic finish gave the wrong ending to what was Packers QB Brett Hundley’s best game as a pro. Hundley threw three TD passes – 39 yards to Randall Cobb and 54 yards to Jamaal Williams on a screen pass in the first quarter, and 55 yards to Davante Adams in the third.
Hundley didn’t turn the ball over and posted a sparkling 134.3 passer rating (17-of-26, 245 yards). Most impressively, he put together a game-tying 12-play, 77-yard TD drive, knotting the game at 28 with just over two minutes to go. The drive included a fourth-and-6 conversion in the red zone on a pass to Adams, which Williams followed up with a 4-yard TD run on a draw play.
“A lot of great things there, a lot of little things,” McCarthy said of Hundley’s clutch drive. “Those are the steps you look for in your young quarterback. I thought he did an excellent job in key spots.”
After the defense stopped Pittsburgh near midfield, Hundley got one more chance with 1:20 left on his own 18-yard line, but things went a little haywire.
He was sacked on first down by rookie Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, taking a helmet-to-helmet hit that wasn’t called. McCarthy said the surprising no-call bogged down the communication on the next play.
“I can’t say more about it. It is what it is,” Hundley said of the helmet hit. “It’s football. You have to keep playing.”
Williams went out of bounds on a short screen pass on second down, but he didn’t know the Packers had changed modes and were trying to run the clock out.
Pittsburgh then used a timeout after a third-down run and had 17 seconds left, plus two timeouts, after a short punt return. In the end, Williams going out of bounds may not have mattered, because Pittsburgh still had a timeout left at the end of the game it likely would have used had Williams stayed in bounds on second down.
“We were late getting the second play in, and then when we got to third-and-long we obviously played for overtime,” McCarthy said. “I thought we were able to flip the field position with 17 seconds left there. They made the big play on their boundary. That’s what happened.”
Aside from the gut-punch conclusion, the biggest regret for the Packers was not taking better advantage of three turnovers. Damarious Randall and Blake Martinez (off a deflection by Ahmad Brooks) both intercepted Roethlisberger, and Martinez recovered a Le’Veon Bell fumble forced by Quinton Dial and Morgan Burnett.
Roethlisberger finished 33-of-45 for 351 yards and a 106.8 passer rating, while Bell piled up 183 yards from scrimmage (95 rushing, 88 receiving).
The Packers got nothing from the latter two takeaways, though, and that proved costly. One drive ended in a missed 57-yard field goal by Mason Crosby in the third quarter that gave the Steelers great field position, which they used to tie the game at 21.
“It was right on the fringe,” McCarthy said regarding Crosby’s range and the decision to try it. “Obviously I have a lot of faith and trust in Mason.”
Two sacks pushed that field goal back to the longer distance, and two others stalled second-half drives. All four of Pittsburgh’s sacks of Hundley came in the second half.
“They heated it up on us, and we didn’t handle it very well, probably 2-3 plays,” McCarthy said.
Williams, with two touchdowns and 135 yards from scrimmage (66 rushing, 69 receiving), helped keep the offense balanced, and Adams (five catches, 82 yards, TD) had his third straight productive game with Hundley.
But as much progress as the Packers made coming off a shutout loss a week ago, there’s no longer any margin for error. At 5-6, Green Bay most likely has to win its final five games to have a chance at an NFC playoff spot.
“This team’s got great fight. They work hard,” McCarthy said. “We need to win. Six losses now. It’s about beating Tampa Bay.”
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