On a cold and windy Green Bay afternoon the Packers lost a gut wrenching game Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 38 – 31. That brings the Packers 2013 record to 7–7–1. Incredibly, a playoff opportunity remains open for the Packers due to the losses of all four NFC North teams this past weekend. It all comes down to the final game in Chicago next week where the Packers will meet the Bears, with the winner becoming North Division champions and advancing to the NFL’s playoff derby.
The Steelers game started out with two pretty evenly matched middle-of-the-road teams. Another way to say that is that neither team is playing very well this season. Both teams run no huddle offenses and both teams have good-looking rookie running backs. The Packers’ outstanding rookie running back, Eddie Lacy, had an impressive first half, which included a beautiful 14-yard double pirouette touchdown run in the second quarter which contributed to a 14–10 Packer lead at halftime.
But the Packers didn’t help themselves with very shoddy coverage on their special teams and some bone-headed, undisciplined penalties against the Steelers. As the lead changed hands several times in the second half, B.J. Raji, Nick Perry and T.J. Lang all committed stupid penalties at critical times, all of which affected the outcome. The Packer coaching staff has to take some responsibility. These types of errors don’t occur on championship teams.
Quarterback Matt Flynn didn’t have a very good performance. He tossed up a critical pick six in the third quarter, committed a costly fumble late in the game and didn’t throw to a wide-open receiver on the final play of the game. The Packers really need Aaron Rodgers to return next week to tilt the odds their way. Matt Flynn is a prototypical backup NFL quarterback. Those type of players can sometimes win a couple games if the rest of the team really steps up its play, but rarely can a backup QB take a game squarely on his shoulders and win it. Rodgers has the talent and gets paid millions of dollars to make those plays, Flynn doesn’t.
More bad news from this game were the injuries suffered by Clay Matthews III and Eddie Lacy. Both re-aggravated injuries they suffered earlier in the year and their availability next week in Chicago is unknown as of press time.
There were some positive things that the Packers can take from this game. James Starks is a hard-charging running back who has excelled in late-season “mudder” or cold-weather games. If Lacy is not able to go next week, Starks provides a pretty decent plan “B.” Also, the kickoff and punt return abilities of rookie Micah Hyde are impressive. Hyde is one of the best punt returners in the NFL this year. Late in the Steelers game he gave his team a great opportunity to tie the game with a 70-yard kickoff return. Hyde has a great future in Green Bay and was one heck of a low-round draft pick by Ted Thompson last spring.
So the Packers’ 2013 season comes down to a one-game shootout with the Bears in the regular season finale. The Bears looked absolutely terrible last Sunday night in their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles but they will bring it all to the table next week as I am sure the Packers will. The NFL’s longest rivalry renews next Sunday for the NFC North title. How good is that?