This is it, folks, we’re down to the wire in the 2013 NFL season. Week 16 proved to be another pivotal step in the entertaining slope that is the National Football League. Both the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were in similar positions; down, but not out. What could have been considered a potential Super Bowl preview this past off-season was now a vehement grappling battle for Wild Card positions in the playoffs. Despite both sectors of the Steelers playing brilliantly at times, they’ve been a model for inconsistency. The offense has been shining of late under the maligned Todd Haley, while the defense toggles back and forth between making plays, and looking old and slow. Green Bay started off hot as usual this year, until the injury that took out Pro Bowl QB Aaron Rodgers for half of this season.
This game went as a lot of the previous battles between these two teams has: high scoring, close, and down to the wire. In what started out as a defensive battle in the snow, we finished with big-time scoring drives and final possession drama. The first quarter saw each team score a passing TD on long drives. The Packers struck first on a 13 play, 87 yard drive that was capped by Matt Flynn’s 5 yard toss to Jarrett Boykin. The Steelers answered on the ensuing drive, sparked by big plays of over 20 yards by Antonio Brown and La’veon Bell (both of whom were excellent in this entire game). The score came from 1 yard out, on a Roethlisberger pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
The second quarter was a little more quiet, as “Big Ben” was slightly off, throwing some erratic passes high. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay’s phenom rookie RB, had a field day against the Steelers, as they seemed totally unable to tackle him. Lacy now has well over 1,000 yards on the year, giving GB their first legitimate ground option in years. Lacy had 84 yards on 15 carries and 2 TD’s, including one in the second quarter. Steelers kicker Shawn Suisham added a 31 yard FG, to put the score at 14-10 for the Packers, at the half.
The second half picked up even more steam, as Lacy’s counterpart, Pittsburgh rookie RB La’veon Bell notched his first ever 100 yard game. His 26 carry, 124 yard (and 1 TD) game was actually Pittsburgh’s first 100 yard rusher in 21 games. Roethlisberger scores on a 13 yard run, and then, chaos ensues. I’ll try to keep it as brief and clear as I can. First, La’veon Bell fumbles on the Pittsburgh 3 yard line. Then the Steel Curtain defense holds GB to a field goal attempt. The attempt is blocked, but on the return, Ziggy Hood bats the ball forward out of bounds, which the officials say is a penalty that gives the Packers back the ball, 1st and goal. The replays showed the Steelers recovering the ball and being down before the swat, but since Mike Tomlin challenged the wrong aspect of the play, it was non-reviewable. Got all that? Nope, me either. In a horrid blunder by the officials, Lacy obtained a 2 yard score. Not to be out-done, Pittsburgh drives the ball right back down the field, on an 11 yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Matt Spaeth. On the following play from scrimmage, Matt Flynn is interception by Cortez Allen, which he returns 40 yards for a score. With the Steelers now ahead 31-21 going into the 4th, the insanity finally seemed to be controlled. But more Christmas miracles would be around the corner…
The Steelers would again be afflicted with a pang that has put them in the doghouse all season. Instead of relying on Bell and running down the clock, they attempt to pass, resulting in Ben being picked off by AJ Hawk. Mason Crosby connects from 22 yards out, and then John Kuhn scores from 1 yard out to tie the game. Turnovers and defensive speed continues to cripple Pittsburgh, and bad timing always finds a way to swallow up bad teams. But this time, a Troy Polamalu forced fumble (recovered by Keisel) gave Pittsburgh the ball at the Green Bay 17, and Bell would score from 1 yard out.
Saving the best for last though, Pittsburgh special teams (as they had all day) allowed a long GB kick return. The game came down to a second-and-six on the Pittsburgh 6 yard line with three seconds remaining. Flynn threw an incomplete pass, and the Steelers lived to fight one more week.
Roethlisberger played inconsistent but decent, finishing 16/28 for 167, 3 TDS (2 passing, 1 rushing) and an INT. Flynn was better as the game went on, going 21/39 for 232, a TD and a pick. James Jones was the best WR for the Packers, notching 84 yards on 9 catches. Antonio Brown answered with 105 on six receptions. On defense, Cortez Allen had a bad first quarter, but bounced back strong. Cameron Heyward had another notable game and is ever improving. Fill-in Stevenson Sylvester had 3 tackles and looked strong, and Timmons led the way with 9 tackles.
With the 38-31 Steelers win in tact, they still have very slim playoff hopes, having to win next week at home against Cleveland, while also needing Baltimore, Miami, and San Diego to lose to get in the playoffs. Green Bay has a showdown with Chicago next week, where the winner gets the division crown (and a playoff birth), while the other is likely left on the outside looking in. Until the next opening kickoff, valued readers…
-Jason Burke -Pittsburgh Steelers Correspondent