By Daniel Benjamin
The Pitsburgh Steelers extended their win streak to six with a come-from-behind 31-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field on Sunday night.
The Steelers (9-2) are off to their best start since 2004. The victory is the Steelers third comeback win in the past four games and their fifth overall victory by a touchdown or less. With the win, the Steelers maintain their edge over New England (9-2) for the top spot in the AFC playoff race. The Steelers’ advantage is as a result of their victory over Kansas City, as the Chiefs defeated the Patriots on the opening game of the season.
For the second straight game, the Steelers offense surpassed the 30 point mark. Ben Roethlisberger looked very good behind center for the second straight game. He completed 9 of his first 12 passes, which included a couple of drop passes. The QB didn’t throw a bad pass until pass No. 13 and then pass No. 14 was picked off. Packers linebacker Damarious Randall made a nice play on the interception, though it wasn’t a great throw.
Roethlisberger set season-highs with a 73.3% (33-45) completion percentage and throwing for 351 yards. He also tossed four touchdowns, for a second straight game, along with two interceptions.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was the star of the game. He made several key catches including one along the sideline on the Steelers’ final drive of the game, and hauled in 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. All 10 of Brown’s catches resulted in first downs. Brown now has 20 receptions for 313 yards and five touchdowns over the last two contests.
Le’Veon Bell was also a major factor in the passing game, reeling in 12 passes for 88 yards. Bell had 20 carries for 95 yards, though he lost a fumble, and ran well on his carries.
The 28 points are the most the Steelers defense has given up all year. Pittsburgh allowed 307 total yards of offense to Green Bay, which is about 18 yards more than their season average. The problem is, the Packers got a good chunk of those yards on three plays. Packers quarterback Brett Hundley, who tied his season-high of 245 passing yards, threw touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards.
The Steelers missed a few tackles on running back Jamaal Williams, who took a screen pass to the house. Then cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who has been filling in for the injured Joe Haden, was left behind on a great hesitation move by Davante Adams. Adams also went through a couple of missed tackles on his way to the end zone.
After not registering a sack in the first half, the Steelers totaled four in the second half. Cam Heyward was the star defensively, providing sustainable pressure all night. Heyward finished with six tackles along with two sacks and two-and-a-half tackles for losses.
T.J. Watt made one of the key plays early in the third quarter by separating Jordy Nelson from the ball to make it third-and-long from the Steelers 36. Watt’s play came right after L.T. Walton sacked Hundley and immediately before Heyward recorded his first sack on the very next play. Which in turn, led to Packers coach Mike McCarthy attempting an ill-advised 57-yard field goal that had no chance of being good. Watt finished with four tackles and one sack.
Special Teams: B-
Boswell obviously gets credit for the game-winning field goal, his second of the season. The 53-yarder ties a record for the longest make in Heinz Field history. But that was his only make, and only attempt. He missed one of three PAT’s. The miss was Boswell’s first ever at home, though he had one blocked earlier this year at Indianapolis.
Despite not posting huge yardage totals, punter Jordan Berry did a nice job pinning the Packers inside the 20 on all three of his punts. His best kick was his first punt of the game when his 36-yard pooch was downed at five-yard line. Green Bay did not return any of the three punts.
The Steelers did a nice job in kick coverage, and Bryant had a fantastic opening kickoff return, taking the ball 38-yards to the 41-yard line. It was the Steelers’ longest return of the season. However, Brown’s best punt return of the night was wiped out due to multiple infractions on the receiving team—obviously only one of the infractions were accepted, a hold by rookie Brian Allen.
The Steelers allowed Roethlisberger to run the no-huddle on the opening possession and he executed it to perfection by marching the Steelers 60 yards for a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley once again came up with some creative play designs throughout the game.
On the opening possession, the Steelers attempted two unusual calls for those situations. Facing third and goal, Bell took the hand-off from Roethlisberger and headed to the right, rather than plunging into the line he pitched the ball to Bryant, who was circling behind him. Bryant didn’t score because Brown didn’t get his block on the edge.
Then on the ensuing play, head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go for it on fourth down from the one-and-half yard line. Haley dialed up a new formation with reserve tight end Xavier Gimble lined up in the backfield and Roethlisberger in the shotgun. Gimble was there for a reason as he plowed his way into the end zone after taking a shovel pass from Roethlisberger.
Tomlin also gets points for going for two on the team’s second touchdown to tie the game. While the defense struggled, defensive coordinator Keith Butler did a nice job with his scouting and playcalling.
The Steelers head to Cincinnati to face the Bengals next Monday night (Dec. 4). The Bengals (5-6) are on a two-game winning streak following their 30-16 victory over Cleveland on Sunday afternoon. With the victory, Cincinnati kept its playoff hopes alive as they are one game out of the final AFC wild card spot.