It’s been 53 years since the Green Bay Packers last defeated the Steelers in the Steel City.
Bart Starr was the starting quarterback when the Packers won 20-12 on Dec. 6, 1970—their last victory in a dismal 6-8 campaign in Phil Bengtson’s final season as head coach.
In an omen of what could come in the first half Sunday at Heinz Field, the score at Three Rivers Stadium that day was 6-3 at halftime. All the scoring occurred in the first quarter, with Green Bay opening with a 100-yard kickoff return by Larry Krause (missed PAT) and the Steelers’ Allan Watson booting a 15-yard field goal.
In the third quarter, Terry Bradshaw burned the Packers secondary on an 87-yard bomb to Dave Smith for a 9-6 Pittsburgh lead. Green Bay responded with Starr’s 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rich McGeorge for a 13-9 cushion.
After the Steelers closed to within 13-12 on Watson’s 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, Starr iced the game with a 65-yard touchdown pass to John Hilton to account for the 20-12 final.
The 2023 Packers, 3-5, broke a four-game losing streak with a 20-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at home last week and seek to continue to build off that modest step forward on the road Sunday.
The Steelers are 5-3 because they have found ways to win the close games with their young quarterback, Kenny Picket. All five of Pittsburgh victories have come by a touchdown or less, including a 20-16 win over Tennessee on Thursday, Nov. 2.
Conversely, Green Bay has lost three games by a total of seven points (25-24 Atlanta, 17-13 Raiders, 19-17 Broncos) with its first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love.
The outcome of most close NFL games comes down to one or two crucial plays.
A turnover late in the game. The game-clinching touchdown run to finish a 12-play drive. A tackle for loss on 4th-down-and-one. The dropped touchdown pass in the end zone. The big punt or kickoff return. Or a missed field goal in the closing seconds.
The return of Green Bay’s most dynamic offensive player, Aaron Jones, sparked the offense and running game against the Rams and the unit scored a first-half touchdown for the first time since Week 2 in Atlanta on Sept. 17.
It’s a step in the right direction as Love continues to build chemistry with the Packers young receivers and tight ends.
Christian Watson, who sustained a back injury snaring a contested 37-yard ball in the fourth quarter last week, practiced all week and is focused on being a playmaker like he was in the second half of the 2022 season. Romeo Dobbs, Dontayvion Wicks, Jayden Reed, and Luke Musgrave all must contribute along with Jones and AJ Dillon in the passing game. Love competed 20 of 26 passes to nine different receivers against Los Angeles and will need options against a Pittsburgh defense that is tough against the run and features pass rusher T.J. Watt.
“It’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows, some inconsistencies,” Love said. “I think we’re continuing to build every week and just try to get this thing going with just consistent performance every week.”
On Sunday, the play of the quarterbacks will have a major impact on the outcome of the game as the well-rested Steelers come off their mini-bye week with extra time to prepare for Green Bay at home. Pickett ranks 26th in the NFL with an 81.6 passer rating, while Love is 25th at 81.9.
Two cornerstones of the Packers defense are listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. The absence of cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder), who had a superb game against the Rams, along with linebacker Quay Walker (groin) would bode well for Pickett and his talented receiving corps of George Pickens, Jaylen Warren, and Diontae Johnson.
Can Green Bay end a 53-year drought in Pittsburgh? As the cliché states: on any given Sunday. It will take a turnover-free, solid performance in all three phases by Matt LaFleur’s team to fly home Sunday night with a victory.
Here’s my Week 10 NFL picks:
Steelers 24, Packers 20
Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the business and his defense will attempt to limit Jones and put the game squarely on Love and his young receivers. Without Alexander, Pittsburgh will attack an outmanned secondary. Love and offense have success in first half and after halftime, but in the end Steelers get the win at home.