The Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) fell behind by double digits for the sixth-straight game without Aaron Rodgers but were unable to mount their third comeback in as many weeks, thanks mostly to a jumbled mess of penalties and special teams mistakes that allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) to leave a snowy Lambeau Field with a 38-31 win.
It was over when…
…the Packers made a mockery of the final 60 seconds, running just two plays from inside the 5-yard line and committing a fatal error when both Don Barclay and T.J. Lang jumped offsides with Green Bay three feet from the goal line. Matt Flynn's final attempt fell incomplete as the fourth-quarter clock expired.
- Eddie Lacy/James Starks: The Packers needed to run the football well to have a chance to win Sunday, and both Lacy and Starks provided more than enough on the ground. The two combined for 131 rushing yards and two scores on 25 carries, and Starks set up the first touchdown with a 23-yards scamper on a screen play. And given better clock management, Starks likely would have sent the game in overtime.
- Micah Hyde: Green Bay's energetic nickel corner made six tackles, defensed a pass and nearly tied the game on a 70-yard kickoff return that gave the Packers one final chance to rally. Hyde ended with three returns of over 30 yards, marking the first time a Packers returner has accomplished that feat this season.
The Packers rushed for 151 yards, averaged 5.0 yards an attempt and held the football for 33:20. Green Bay became just the second team this season to rush for more than 100 yards against the Steelers and lose...Ben Roethlisberger completed just 16 passes and finished with 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 83.5...Matt Flynn threw for 232 yards on 39 attempts, with one touchdown, one interception and three sacks. His passer rating was 69.6...Lacy rushed for 84 yards and two scores, setting a new Packers rookie record for rushing yards (1,112) and extending his record for touchdowns (10). He left in the fourth quarter after re-injuring his right ankle...Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, selected before Lacy in last April's second round, rushed for a career high 124 yards. It was his first 100-yard rushing game of his career...A.J. Hawk intercepted his ninth career pass and first of the 2013 season to end the third quarter...Micah Hyde returned five kicks for 164 yards, with a long of 70. He averaged a season-best 33.4 yards per return...The Packers forced two turnovers, and now have 10 takeaways in the last four games...Green Bay had 26 first downs, went 6-for-14 on third down and ran 13 more plays (72) than Pittsburgh (59). The Steelers were 2-for-10 on third down but 2-for-2 on fourth...Pittsburgh outscored Green Bay 21-7 in the third quarter...The Packers had nine penalties for 90 yards.
– Even Micah Hyde's impressive day returning kicks couldn't save the performance from Shawn Slocum's special teams. Both the Packers offense and defense played well enough to win the game, but the special teams more or less lost it. Antonio Brown had a 41-yard punt return. Emmanuel Sanders returned a kick 54 yards. The Steelers executed a fake punt and got 15 more yards when Jake Stoneburner roughed the passer (or punter). Stoneburner nearly cost the Packers a possession when he muffed a short kickoff in the first half. Mason Crosby had a kick blocked and was only saved by the predictable cluelessness of NFL officials. And Nick Perry jumped offsides with Pittsburgh lining up for a field goal late, which allowed the Steelers to burn up Green Bay's last timeout and find the end zone. Not sure much more could have gone wrong for Slocum's unit Sunday.
– This Packers team without Aaron Rodgers might not be especially good, but it has certainly proven how resilient it can be. Green Bay has trailed by 10 or more points in every game Rodgers hasn't started this season. The first two ended in losses, and Thanksgiving got out of hand. But the rallies back against Minnesota, Atlanta, Dallas and now Pittsburgh have been heroic displays of dealing with adversity, which head coach Mike McCarthy consistently preaches.
– Many will blame Andrew Quarless for Matt Flynn's pick-six in the third quarter, but that blame is misplaced. The play in question was clearly a run-pass option, where Flynn has the choice to attack the one-on-one matchup outside if he deems it necessary. Quarless simply went to execute his block for the run half of the play, but Flynn's footwork let him down and the bump with Quarless caused his throw to come off all wrong. That's Flynn's fault all the way. There's more blame to be had on his late fumble, too. The conditions weren't great, and Flynn was fighting for the sticks on third down, but that's a situation where a turnover simply can't happen. Tuck the ball away and make a punt on fourth down the worst case scenario.
– Who knows if Aaron Rodgers will play next Sunday. I'd say it's unlikely. Expect the same song and dance—from Monday to Friday—to continue on next week.
– The Packers must now travel to Chicago to face the Bears in the season finale. By later tonight, we'll know if Green Bay is eliminated or if Week 17 is the NFC North championship game.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.