By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers were afforded some early Christmas cheer pre-game, as the two outcomes that needed to take place in order for the Steelers to still be alive for the playoffs when they take the field came out. The Miami Dolphins losing and New York Jets winning keep them alive for a bit longer, though a win by the Baltimore Ravens, who play at the same time as Pittsburgh, could still eliminate them this week.
The Green Bay Packers won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, which was returned past the 30-yard line. The defense regained Steve McLendon and Brett Keisel, but lost LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones. Chris Carter started in place of Jones on the right side.
Eddie Lacy gained eight yards on first and second down, but a blitz by Lawrence Timmons resulted in a sack for a loss of seven yards to force a punt.
Le’Veon Bell ran the first play from scrimmage for Pittsburgh, who took it to the left edge for 11 yards. On second down, Ben Roethlisberger’s short pass to Heath Miller gained six yards. Bell found the left edge again on second down and gained four yards for the first down. It’s an encouraging early sign that Bell has been able to win the edge.
After a false start on Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers went five-wide and ran a screen to Antonio Brown, which gained six yards. On second and nine, Roethlisberger tried to force a pass to Brown about 20 yards down the field, but it was deflected. After a delay of game, a screen to Emmanuel Sanders came up well short of the first down, forcing a punt, which was fair caught at the 13.
Matt Flynn’s pass to James Jones on first down picked up seven yards. On second and short, he found Jarrett Boykin wide open for the first down. Flynn attempted to toss a screen to Boykin on the next play, but he dropped the pass. A screen to running back James Starks, however, gained 23 yards across midfield.
Ike Taylor nearly had an interception, but Jones wrestled the ball away for an eight-yard gain. After a first-down run, Flynn looked for Boykin in the end zone, but Cortez Allen deflected the pass. Lacy found a seem on second down for 14 yards into the red zone.
A few runs later, the Packers got first and goal at the five-yard line. On the first play, Flynn found Boykin with the leap over Allen for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
After picking up two yards on first down, Bell found a hole right up the middle behind a block by Cody Wallace for 22 yards. On the next play, Roethlisberger found Brown down the field down to the 13. Bell took a wide pitch three yards to the 10 a play later, and nearly gained the first down on second down. On third and one, Bell fought for first and goal. Roethlisberger eventually found Sanders for the touchdown on first and goal to tie the game.
The Packers fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but recovered. Flynn found Boykin for a big gain on first down after a catch and run, and a roughing the passer on Cameron Heyward quickly put the Packers on the 37 of the Steelers.
Vince Williams dragged Lacy down after a gain of one after the big play and penalty. Flynn scrambled for just a yard after the pocket collapsed to set up third and eight. Jordy Nelson got just enough for the first down, but a facemask penalty on guard Josh Sitton made it third and 23 instead. After the pocket collapsed again, Flynn tried to scramble, but Jason Worilds was there to bring him down for a loss.
Brown’s long punt return set Roethlisberger and the offense up with good field position across midfield. Bell forced his way for about three yards on first down, and gained five on second down. On third and two, however, he was stopped for no gain, spoiling the good field position, but it did flip the field.
After a five-yard run and a four-yard pass, the Packers had third and one deep in their own territory. Flynn found Jones for 13 yards down the field, however, for the first down. A holding penalty made it first and 20 though, and Lacy gained only one on first down. On second and 19, Jones couldn’t hold on to the pass. Neither could the running back on third down, resulting in another punt.
Bell couldn’t hold on to a short screen pass on first down after the punt in wet conditions. On second and 10, Roethlisberger hurled it out to Brown for 18 yards. He looked for Brown deep two plays later, but the receiver couldn’t get under it. On third and nine, Clay Matthews beat Kelvin Beachum for the sack. The punt pinned the Packers inside the 20, but a hold on Greg Warren forced a re-kick, which was returned to the 29.
Jones had a catch and run of 29 yards on second down after fooling Allen, as the Packers crossed midfield again. Lacy worked his way for 11 yards on the next play. Following another first down, Lacy got free again for 11 yards and into the red zone. The rookie cut back on the next play for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 14-7 lead.
Sanders helped begin the Steelers’ response by returning the kickoff past midfield, at the 45. Felix Jones took a draw for seven yards on first down with the half running out. Roethlisberger found Miller for the first down. Roethlisberger was nearly sacked on the next play, but got the ball out of his hand at the last moment. Jerricho Cotchery gained nine to make it third and one. The Steelers ultimately settled for a field goal on third down with time running out yet with a timeout in hand to close within 14-10 at halftime.