The Pittsburgh Steelers enter today’s game getting no help from the Patriots, who have won seven games in a row now, the longest active streak in the league if I’m not mistaken, but they still, of course, control their own destiny for homefield advantage.
The next step in that journey is tonight’s game against the Packers, for which they will be absent the services of some notable players, including Marcus Gilbert and Joe Haden, along with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald.
Cameron Sutton, however, is active tonight, making his NFL debut, as is, more significantly, Mike Mitchell, who missed the team’s last game and finished up the week limited in practice. James Harrison is also inactive.
BREAKING: The Cardinals just unseated the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is rather advantageous to the Steelers in their attempts to secure at least a bye week during the playoffs this year, which has not happened since 2010. With Jacksonville now falling to 7-4, Pittsburgh can afford to lose a game, despite the Jaguars owning the head-to-head matchup this season.
The Steelers opened the game receiving the ball, with Martavis Bryant getting off the Steelers’ best kick return of the season by a good margin. Ben Roethlisberger quickly completed two passes to Antonio Brown and then Bryant for a pair of first downs. Down to the 29, the ball went to Le’Veon Bell on the ground for three yards. Following a false start, now second and 12, Bell ripped off a 10-yard run to set up a third and two. A quick pass to Bell out of the slot moved the chains and into the red zone.
Roethlisberger threw a low pass that was scooped up by Eli Rogers for a short gain. On second and six, out of five wide, Roethlsiberger looked for Bryant on a slant, incomplete. Guarded by Kevin King, the receiver dropped the ball. On third down, Jesse James caught a screen pass inside the five-yard line after faking pass protection.
At the four, Roethlisberger found nobody open and eventually found Bell short over the middle to get a yard or two. He seemed to go down hard. From the two, Justin Hunter could not pull in the back shoulder pass inbounds, losing possession. Now third and goal, the Steelers ran a reverse for Bryant, King making the tackle at the one. On fourth and one, it was the shovel pass to Xavier Grimble, of all people, getting in for the score. Ben Roethlisberger overcame a couple of drops to end the opening drive with a touchdown. But Chris Boswell shanked the extra point, making it 6-0.
Vince Williams was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the ensuing kickoff. The Packers were able to get to midfield on two carries to open the drive. T.J. Watt pressured Brett Hundley on the bootleg, but was able to find Davante Adams for a short gain, who came up limping. On second and five from the Steelers’ 43, Mike Hilton was able to tackle the back for a short loss. An illegal hands to the face penalty on Artie Burns wiped out a sack by Stephon Tuitt.
Now first down at the 38, Williams met the back in the hole for a loss of one. Then Hundley hit Randall Cobb for the long touchdown on blown coverage. Of course. The Steelers now trail 6-7.
Following a five-yard pass to James, he dropped a beautiful lobbed pass on second down. Roethlisberger completed to Rogers on third down, but offsetting penalties negated the play. Third and five again, this time Roethlisberger stepped up and went back to James, bringing in the catch for 17 yards.
Near midfield, Ben launched the ball down the field to Rogers, in and out of the hands of the receiver, perhaps the fourth dropped pass of the first two drives already. Going to the ground, Bell picked up about three yards on the play. Now third and long, the pass was intercepted by Damarious Randle, intended for Rogers.
Watt stopped the back after a one-yard gain. Hundley couldn’t find Jordy Nelson inbounds on second down on a rollout. Now third and long, Jamaal Williams got free on a screen pass that he took the rest of the way for a touchdown, the Packers now leading 14-6.
Bell was good for a three-yard run and a six-yard dumpoff. On third and one, Roethlisberger completed to Brown for two yards, his first reception since the first play.
A stiff-arm from Bell on a reception allowed him to pick up about six. Brown was wide open for 13 on second down. Across midfield, Roethlisberger’s deep pass to Rogers was dropped down the field. It was perhaps the fifth drop of the night. Bell added five on second down. Now third and five, Roethlisberger scrambled and was tackled well short of the first down. Jordan Berry kicked 35 yards to the five-yard line, dead and downed there by Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Williams was stopped on first down after a gain of about a yard to the six. A quick bubble screen to Adams added about two or three. On third and long, a screen to Nelson on the other side of the field was stopped immediately by Burns after two yards. A penalty on the Packers was declined. Brown back to receive the punt, got a great return to about the 20-yard line, but a penalty on the return brought it back.
Jerald Hawkins checked in as an extra tight end, the first snap of his NFL career, I believe the first time he’s dressed. From their own 35, Bell took the ball up the middle for four. He was limited to one on second down, setting up a third and five. Alejandro Villanueva got burned by Ahmad Brooks. Of course, it was Brown who had to step up and save the day, Ben stepping up into the pocket to get the throw off. The catch and run went for 39 yards to the 20.
Bell picked up four yards on first down after showing initial hesitation, into the red zone. Out of a two tight end set, Roethlisberger heaved the ball long to Bryant down the left sideline, completing the catch in the end zone for his second touchdown of the season, and the first since week two. On the two-point conversion attempt that followed, Roethlisberger found Brown on a slant-and-up to tie the game.
From the 22 following the kickoff, Hundley under pressure nearly got the ball down the field to the back, Williams, but he dropped the ball on what could have been a big play. On second down, the fullback picked up a couple. Now third and six, the quarterback was able to scramble to move the chains.
Following two tackles by Burns and…somebody, I missed it, on third and two, it was a motion pitch to Cobb, who was engulfed for the stop. Cameron Heyward beat the left tackle to be able to read the play easily. Another punt opportunity for Brown.
On the punt, Brown fielded at the 16 and was able to picked up a handful to about the 23.
On first down, Roethlisberger pump faked hard before checking it down to Bell for an eight-yard gain. He pushed forward for five or six on the following play. Another short run bled into the two-minute warning. This time his scramble picked up the first down and more, picking up 14 yards across midfield.
Roethlisberger shoveled the ball to Bell on the following play, who did not appear to be expecting it. This has happened a few times this year on such passes. A flat route to Bell only picked up three, leading to a third and long. Roethlisberger and Brown could not connect on the play, getting only one outstretched hand on it, forcing a punt. Fair caught at the 10, induced by Heyward-Bey.
A 12-yard run was enabled by an uncalled hold on Heyward. Sean Davis made a nice tackle on Williams on the following play to prevent a potential long gain. After using a timeout, they didn’t on the next play, letting the half run out.