In the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a familiar pattern has emerged, one that running back Najee Harris has grown accustomed to. Tight contests and late-game drama seem to be the norm for this team, a trend that continued with their recent 23-19 triumph over the Green Bay Packers.
The Steelers, led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, displayed a blend of strategic offense and gritty determination. Pickett's connection with running back Jaylen Warren was a highlight, but not one the Packers particularly want to remember. The pass to Warren became the center of controversy as late in the second quarter, with the Packers trailing, Pickett threw a short pass to Warren. The referees ruled it incomplete, a decision that was hotly contested by the Packers. Green Bay challenged the call, asserting it was a backward pass and that they had recovered the ball at the three-yard line. However, after review, the ruling on the field was upheld. This decision was pivotal, as many believed it wrongly denied the Packers a crucial possession in the dying moments of the game.
The Steelers, a team that often finds itself outpaced in yardage and at times outplayed, have developed a knack for pulling through when it matters most. This has been especially true in 2023, where despite regularly being on the back foot statistically, they’ve consistently found themselves in playoff contention with a 6-3 record. This paradox of chaos and predictability was evident in their latest victory, which mirrored many of their previous wins: modest offensive output, key turnovers, and just enough across the board to come out with wins.
Harris, who contributed 82 yards and a touchdown, appeared unfazed by the close nature of the game, reflecting the team’s ethos. This adaptability to high-pressure situations has been key to the Steelers' success, as evidenced by their impressive streak of nine consecutive wins in one-score games, a run that extends back to the previous season.
Defying the odds, all of Pittsburgh's six victories in 2023 have been narrow escapes, challenging the commonly held belief that NFL games are unpredictable. Yet, the Steelers have consistently managed to deliver in clutch moments, a sentiment echoed by linebacker Alex Highsmith.
The defense, particularly the makeshift secondary, played a crucial role in the win. Key interceptions by veterans like Patrick Peterson and Keanu Neal in the dying moments of the game were pivotal. These performances come as the Steelers prepare for significant matchups against division rivals, carrying with them a wave of momentum.
Offensively, the duo of Harris and Jaylen Warren, who was recently named a co-starter, was instrumental. They combined for over 200 yards, contributing significantly to the team's total offense. Kicker Chris Boswell’s field goals were also crucial, hitting three field goals and keeping the Steelers offense in the game early especially following Green Bay’s brief lead in the game.
The Steelers' philosophy, as center Mason Cole highlighted, is less about the style of their wins and more about the end result. This approach was evident in their latest game, where they avoided turnovers and capitalized on their opponents' errors.
The Packers loss was a frustrating one, missing multiple opportunities to clinch the game against the Steelers. In the last five minutes, they advanced twice into the red zone but faltered, with quarterback Jordan Love's attempts resulting in interceptions during these critical moments on the road.
Despite some of these disappointing and unfortunate interceptions, Jordan Love has consistently delivered impressive performances throughout the season, with his skill particularly shining in the last two games. Interestingly, his starting statistics in his first year as a starter show striking similarities to those of Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers during his initial season in the same role. This parallel between the two quarterbacks highlights the possibilities of Love's potential and promises an exciting future.
Love completed 21 of 40 for 289 yards and two touchdowns for Green Bay, but the Packers (3-6) were unable to back up last week's victory over the Los Angeles Rams despite outgaining the Steelers by 75 yards.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur reflected on these missed chances, acknowledging that the team had not one, but two opportunities to secure a win. He praised the Steelers' defense for making decisive plays, a recurring theme observed in their game footage.
The initial end zone attempt from the 14-yard line, aimed at Christian Watson, was thwarted by Steelers veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson. His deflection led to safety Keanu Neal making an interception. LaFleur commented on the play, noting that the Steelers' coverage wasn’t conducive to their out-and-up strategy and suggested that Love should have opted for a backside throw instead.
Wicks has had an outstanding rookie year thus far. Wicks displays exceptional talent as a receiver. While the play appears straightforward, executing it with precise depth and timing is crucial for this offense, and Wicks consistently delivers on this front.
Love, acknowledging the skill of the opposing defense, commended the cornerback for an excellent play.
In a nail-biting finish, with just three seconds left and the Packers at the Pittsburgh 16-yard line, their final play was intercepted by safety Damontae Kazee at the goal line. LaFleur pointed out that this was a well-rehearsed end-of-game strategy that was effectively countered by the Steelers' defense.
The game wasn't just about these final moments. Earlier, the Packers failed to capitalize on promising situations, including a second-quarter drive starting near midfield that ended in a three-and-out, and two third-quarter red zone advances that resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns. Additionally, dropped passes, including one on a trick play, hindered their progress.
LaFleur expressed disappointment at settling for field goals too often and emphasized the need to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
One critical moment was a blocked extra point after the Packers' second touchdown, which altered the game's dynamics. The Steelers' Patrick Peterson blocked Anders Carlson's PAT, changing the scoreboard to 17-13 in favor of Pittsburgh, instead of a closer 17-14. Tight end Josiah Deguara missed a crucial block on an extra point attempt, leading to a blocked kick. This missed extra point would later haunt the Packers, as it left them in a position where a field goal would no longer suffice to tie the game and force overtime. This has to be the worst block of all-time!!!!!!
Discussing the blocked PAT, LaFleur revealed the team had prepared an altered snap count to counter the Steelers' rush, a tactic gleaned from game footage. Unfortunately, this adaptation was not successfully executed.
Another significant mishap occurred in the final drive, where a check-down pass to running back Aaron Jones ended in a time-wasting play. Instead of stepping out of bounds, Jones cut back inside, failing to gain any yards and causing a significant delay before the next snap.
These missed opportunities and small errors accumulated, contributing to the Packers' disappointing 23-19 loss to the Steelers.
Packers: Host the Los Angeles Chargers at Lambeau Field the following Sunday @ 1:00 pm EST
Steelers: Travel to face the Browns next Sunday @ 1:00 pm EST. Pittsburgh previously secured a 26-22 victory against Cleveland in their first encounter on September 18.