By Mike Vandermause
December 23, 2013
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen (28) makes a leaping interception in front of Green Bay Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin (11) in the third quarter during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
The Green Bay Packers had no business losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
A victory was there for the taking, yet the Packers stumbled and bumbled their way to a 38-31 defeat.
The good news for the Packers is their playoff chances remain intact after the Chicago Bears handed them an early Christmas present by losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. That sets up a Packers-Bears winner-take-all battle for the NFC North title next week at Soldier Field in Chicago.
But if the Packers are entertaining any hope of qualifying for a fifth consecutive playoff berth and third straight division title, they must perform a lot better than they did against the Steelers.
It was a classic case of the Packers beating themselves with head-scratching penalties, critical turnovers and mind-numbing game-management mistakes.
At the very least, the Packers should have sent the game into overtime after driving to the Steelers’ 1-yard line with just less than 40 seconds remaining. But their inability to get more than one play off during that time was stunningly inept.
A ghastly false start penalty — officials said the infraction was on Don Barclay, but replays show T.J. Lang was the offender — took the clock down to 10 seconds.
But the Packers failed to snap the ball until just less than 4 seconds remained. Matt Flynn’s pass to Jarrett Boykin was off the mark, and it was even more agonizing considering Jordy Nelson appeared to be open in the end zone.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said there was nothing Flynn could have done in the waning seconds to snap the ball sooner because officials hadn’t set the ball. But a replay of the final, fateful seconds suggests otherwise, and even Flynn said he thought the Packers should have been able to run two plays in the final 10 seconds.
McCarthy blundered on the Steelers’ final possession when he didn’t order his team to let Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell score on first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
That forced the Packers to use their final timeout, which would have come in handy in the waning moments.
McCarthy said the Packers talked about letting Bell score on the next play, and presumably they did on his 1-yard touchdown run with 1:25 remaining. But it made no sense to wait an extra play to do that and waste a precious timeout.
If questionable coaching decisions didn’t kill the Packers, then gut-wrenching mistakes on the field did.
The Packers were off their game, and if they don’t get things straightened out before heading to Chicago next week, they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
Usually the Packers thrive in the snow and cold at home, but their NFL-leading 13-game winning streak at Lambeau in December and January regular-season games ended abruptly.
Flynn hand-delivered a Steelers touchdown in the third quarter when he floated a sideline pass in the direction of Boykin but instead found Pittsburgh cornerback Cortez Allen wide open. Allen returned the interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
But Flynn wasn’t finished handing out presents.
His fumble deep in Packers territory with less than 2 minutes left set up the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown.
There were also nine Packers penalties for 90 yards, none more egregious than Nick Perry’s offside infraction that turned a Steelers field goal late in the game into a touchdown.
It was somewhat puzzling that McCarthy defended the Packers’ performance in light of all the boneheaded mistakes.
“This team, Team 93 as I refer to them, they refuse to lose,” McCarthy said. “A ton of fight in them. We needed one more play tonight.”
Actually, this team invited defeat with a rash of inexcusable errors.
And if things don’t get corrected in a hurry, their season will end Sunday in Chicago.