GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLAX/WEAU) – The Steelers—somehow, some way—have pulled out the close games this season. The Packers have not, losing four games by a combined total of 11 points.
And so the Packers losing streak in Pittsburgh—dating back to 1970—continues as Green Bay fought to the bitter end before falling to the Steelers, 23-19, Sunday afternoon.
The Packers record falls to 3-6 and they currently reside in third place in the NFC North Division, ahead of 3-7 Chicago and trailing 6-4 Minnesota and 7-2 Detroit.
Pittsburgh, 6-3, has won all of its games this season by seven points or less and are tied for second place with Cleveland in the AFC North. Baltimore, 7-3, holds down the top spot.
Under head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have the best winning percentage in the NFL in games decided by seven points or less over the past three seasons. Pittsburgh has a 19-6-1 (.750) record, followed by Philadelphia (13-6) and Kansas City (15-7).
The Packers had a chance to beat a beatable Pittsburgh team on the road and build some momentum with a two-game winning streak. While Green Bay showed improvement in some areas, there were glaring issues in other aspects: poor tackling, a run defense that yielded 205 yards, and red-zone production.
“There are no moral victories in this league,” Matt LaFleur said after the game. On Monday, the Green Bay head coach elaborated on his team’s performance after studying the game film, with a reminder that past performance is not a guarantee of future success.
“It’s the National Football League,” La Fleur said. “You can’t rest on what you’ve done lately. Every week is a new challenge.”
The Packers defense had major issues tackling Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren on Sunday. Why?
“It was a combination of missed tackles, missed assignments,” LaFleur said. “There were a couple of times where we got, where we were playing single-high defense, where it’s solo-gap football, and you had two guys in one gap. There were a couple of times they got us in two-safety looks and when you do that, you’re gonna be a little bit short in terms of your front. And they took what should be 5-, 6-, 7-yard gains, and they made them into explosion plays. So there was a lot of things that we could’ve done at a much higher level.
“We threw some different looks at them. We played base to 11, we played penny. Obviously, you always play nickel; they’re a big 11-personnel team. So we threw some different looks at them, but obviously the execution, certainly some of the play calls could be better, but the execution needs to be better as well. We need to tackle better. So I think there’s plenty of blame to go around there.”
Green Bay again struggled in the red zone. In five trips inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line, the Packers scored just one touchdown and two field goals. Jordan Love threw interceptions on the Packers final two series with the chance to pull out a win with a touchdown. The turnovers proved costly as Pittsburgh created two while committing none.
“It’s disappointing,” LaFleur said. “I think when you really look at it, especially in particular this game, we had some opportunities where, quite frankly, if you wanna be a good red-zone team, you typically have to run the ball effectively down there. We had a couple of (opportunities) that we weren’t as effective and it puts you in third-down situations and it’s always a struggle on third down down there. So I think it starts with our run game.”
The game started fast for two teams that have struggled all season long with young quarterbacks to score points in the first half.
The Steelers run game powered a touchdown drive after the opening kickoff, capped by Harris’ 4-yard run through the heart of the Packers defense for a 7-0 lead. Green Bay responded with its first touchdown in the first quarter since mid-September as Jordan Love hit Romeo Doubs with a perfect 8-yard scoring pass to knot the game.
Pittsburgh regained the lead 14-7 on Warren’s 16-yard touchdown romp and extended it to a 10-point cushion on Chris Boswell’s 42-yard field goal. Green Bay answered with a 35-yard touchdown strike to Jayden Reed to close within 17-13 with 4:14 remaining in the half. A special teams missed blocking assignment allowed Patrick Peterson to block the conversion kick.
It was a field-goal fest in the third quarter, with Anders Carlson’s 31- and 28-yard kicks propelling the Packers to a brief 19-17 lead before Boswell’s 49-yarder made in 20-19 at the end of the stanza.
The only scoring in the fourth quarter was Boswell’s 35-yarder with 5:24 remaining to account for the 23-19 final as Love and the Packers offense reached the red zone twice on potential game-winning drives that ended with interceptions.
Love threw a ball to receiver Christian Watson in the end zone that Peterson made a great play on, getting a hand up to knock the pass away, right into the hands of teammate Keanu Neal. Love’s final pick was on the last play of the game from the Steelers 16-yard line with three seconds left. He underthrew Watson in the end zone and it was easily picked off by Damontae Kazee at the 2-yard line.
With seven defenders lined up across the goal line, any chance for the 6’-4” Watson to make a catch would be on a high ball in the middle of the end zone.
Overall, Love had a solid day, completing 21 of 40 passes to eight different receivers for 280 yards and two touchdowns for a 71.8 rating. While the Packers receivers again dropped 4-5 passes, Love showed improvement on longer passes, hitting explosive plays of 30 or more yards to Reed, Doubs, Dontayvion Wicks, and Luke Musgrave.
Aaron Jones was held in check (13 carries, 35 yards), but AJ Dillon rushed nine times for 70 yards, including a career-long 40-yard burst. The Packers defense did an admirable job limiting Steelers receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson to four total catches for 62 yards but were gashed in the run game.
“It’s very frustrating,” Love said in his postgame press conference. “We have not found a way to win. . . we have to dig deeper.”
The Packers return home to Lambeau Field Sunday to host the Los Angeles Chargers in a 12 noon game broadcast by FOX 25/48 exclusively in Western Wisconsin.