The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The NFL’s two most storied franchises. Two monuments to the Frost Belt’s indomitable, enduring spirit. Two franchises fighting for their playoff lives, playing on Lambeau Field the NFL’s most hallowed ground, playing in late December, playing in the snow.
- As John Madden would have said, “This is what the game of football is all about.”
On top of that, recent Steelers history vs the Packers has shown that games between Green Bay and Pittsburgh played under these conditions go down to the wire.
- In 1995, Yancey Thigpen’s last second drop in the end zone decided it for the Packers
- In 1998, the Steelers built up a 27 point rally, only to find themselves fending off a furious Brett Favre rally
- In 2009, it to a Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace hook up with 5 second remaining to break a 5 game Steelers losing streak
- In 2011, there was of course Super Bowl XLV
This contest brought it all, big plays, smash mouth football, surprises, reversals, and drama.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin threw down a gauntlet of sorts mid week when he took a question asking if the Steelers would pick Le’Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy of the Packers. Tomlin didn’t flinch. The Steelers would draft Le’Veon Bell again no ifs ands or butts.
While you’d expect a head coach to pubiclly back his player, it was some statement given that Lacy has outrushed Bell, Bell had not posted a 100 yard game, and indeed in 5 of 11 games Bell’s rushing average failed to crack the 3.0 threshold.
Le’Veon Bell entered the game as a man with something to prove, and it was evident early on that he was going to prove it. Numbers don’t lie. To open the game:
- Bell took his first carry for 11 yards
- His second went for 5 yards
- His fourth went for 22 yards and his fifth for another 7
By the end of the first half, Bell had 71 yards. Yet it was in the second half that he would prove his mettle.
NFL games are emotional affairs. Playing with emotion is fundamental, but emotion can be tricky. Allow emotion to fuel too much of your effort, and you’ll crush yourself in the highs and lows encountered in the course of a normal game.
Students of the game can find no better illustration of this than what transpired in the last 7 minutes of the third quarter. And Le’Veon Bell was a the center of it.
A picture perfect Green Bay punt left the Steelers with the ball at their 2. Bell coughed up the ball on the ensuing play, Green Bay got possession at Pittsburgh’s two. The Steelers defense amazingly held. Danny Smith’s Special Teams delivered a blocked field goal, thanks to Steve McLendon.
- What followed was yet another exhibition in the utter incompetence of NFL officiating.
Ryan Clark clearly recovered the ball for the Steelers, yet the officials refused to review the play, letting penalty of Ziggy Hood stand, giving Green Bay the ball back at the Steelers two, where they scored a touchdown.
Did you have an angry football team after that blocked field goal?
Mike Tomlin: I am not going to speak for them. I was angry.
Bell is of course a rookie, and he chose the worst possible time, in the worst possible field position, to make his first NFL fumble. And it cost his team 7. How would he respond?
- On his next carry, Bell shot through the Packer’s defense like a cannon for 25 yards.
Emotion, when managed correctly in the NFL, can be a powerful weapon, and 5 plays later, including a great 7 yard run followed by a 7 yard catch from Jonathan Dwyer, and Ben Rothlisberger was hooking up with Matt Spaeth to put the Steelers back ahead, 24-21.
And the Steelers were only getting started. On the next play from scrimmage, Cortez Allen read Matt Flynn perfectly, picked off his pass and speed 40 yards into the end zone for his first pick six.
- In a span of less than 3 minutes, the Steelers had scored 2 touchdowns, and held a ten point lead
But it wasn’t over yet, not by a long shot.
Spirit of Lombardi Still Runs Strong in Green Bay
Teams that give up such scoring sprees rarely win games, and often times fold. But not these Green Bay Packers. The Packer’s next possession ended in a three and out. Perhaps they were, in fact folding.
Yet the Steelers next possession lasted one play, as Ben Roethlisberger, in trying to hit Heath Miller, threw a bad interception. Green Bay drove all the way to the Steelers 4 yard line, but the Steelers defense held, bringing the Packers within 7.
- The Steelers next possession ended with a three and out.
It only took Green Bay five plays to move down the field, where John Kuhn ran it in for one yard, making Mike Tomlin regret that Bruce Arians talked him into cutting the kid back on ’07. The score was now tied at 31-31 with 7:14 left to play.
It Pays to Play to Win… And to Focus…
The Steelers couldn’t make anything of their next drive, and were forced to punt. It was time for the Steelers defense to deliver, and they did on a series that belonged to Brett Keisel. Keisel sacked Matt Flynn at the Packers 5. After a 5 yard pass, Flynn seeing no one open opted to run for it. Troy Polamalu stripped the ball, and Keisel recovered.
- Gaining the ball, at the 17, the Steelers could only move to the 7 before Mike Tomlin was forced to send in the field goal unit, when iron struck.
When questioned about penalties, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher always made a distinction between pre-snap and post-snap penalties.
The latter did not worry him as much, because he said you never wanted to temper a players enthusiasm for the game. The former, however indicated a lack of focus. Given that Green Bay has 5 former Cowher assistants, players or draftees on their staff, they might have done well to internalize that bit of The Chin’s wisdom.
- A Steelers field goal would have given them the lead, but would have given Green Bay the ball back with over a minute and a time out.
Green Bay was penalized on the field goal attempt, and they gave the Steelers a first down.
- Mike Tomlin did not hesitate, he instead played to win, and Le’Veon Bell scored a touchdown.
Green Bay got a monster return, and drove to the Steelers 1. Overtime looked to be a certaintly when the Packer’s lack of focus struck again.
- A false start penalty cost the Packers 5 yards and 10 seconds off of the clock.
All time had run off the clock by the time Matt Flynn tried to hit Jarrett Boykin in the end zone, but his pass was too high.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had just walked into one of the NFL’s most sacred playing fields in late December and won the game. And in doing so the team that started the year at 0-4 gave itself a shot at playing week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.
As John Madden said, this is what the game of football is all about.