By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Who said there are no moral victories?
Green Bay’s offense, Hundley show dramatic improvement in 31-28 loss
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Who said it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?
Whoever said those things wouldn’t last long in the NFL.
Then again, if the cliché fits, wear it.
The Packers’ 31-28 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday night came down to the final play: A Chris Boswell 53-yard field goal as the game ended to secure the Steelers’ hard-fought victory.
To be sure, the outcome was disappointing for the Packers and their fans. Green Bay is a franchise that is accustomed to winning and reaching the playoffs on a regular basis.
The post-season appears to be a long-shot for the Packers.
Green Bay (5-6) is currently 1-5 without Aaron Rodgers. The losses included a dismal shutout at the hands of the Ravens last week. It was evident Packers’ backup quarterback Brett Hundley had regressed in his development.
Or so it seemed.
Hundley responded to the adversity and the insults in a big way. He stared down a rugged Steelers’ defense and didn’t blink. He ignored the Packers’ status as a two-touchdown underdog.
He just went out and balled at Heinz Field.
The third-year quarterback completed 17 of 26 for 245 yards and a 134.3 quarterback rating. He threw touchdown passes of 55, 54 and 39 yards despite being sacked four times and hit often.
Hundley went pass-for-pass with the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 33 of 45 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
Said Hundley: “I’m not going to let one game define me … I didn’t like the way I played last week and made sure it didn’t happen again.”
The Packers were without Rodgers, Ty Montgomery, Bryan Bulaga, Aaron Jones, Kenny Clark and Clay Matthews.
Still, they took the Steelers (9-2) head-on and pushed them to the limit before Pittsburgh rallied for its sixth straight victory.
Before the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was talking about what a great matchup it’s going to be when they play the New England Patriots on Dec. 17.
Tomlin was right about the Steelers-Patriots duel being marquee. His timing could’ve used a little work, though, as it appeared to be a pre-game dismissal of the Packers.
I don’t believe that was Tomlin’s intent or belief.
Nevertheless, the Steelers echoed their coach’s words with their play. They were sloppy. They didn’t take care of the football. They couldn’t knock out the Packers until the very end.
“I feel like we’re close … really close,” Hundley said.
Hundley feels that way because it’s true.
To those who dismissed the Packers’ victory at Chicago by saying, “It was just the Bears,” I say: Now what? Did the Steelers overlook the Packers? Did they fail to show up until it was almost too late?
The fact is the Packers turned in a strong performance on national TV. Perhaps now media and fans will cool the sarcasm if only for a week.
The Packers’ top three offensive players – Hundley, Jamaal Williams and Davante Adams – played exceptionally well. The trouble was the Steelers’ top three – Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown – were a field goal better Sunday night.
Williams rushed 21 times for a modest 66 yards, but he came through with a nifty 54-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on a well-designed screen play.
Williams’ 4-yard leap for a touchdown tied the game at 28-28 with 2:02 to play.
“He was obviously a featured player today,” McCarthy said. “I wanted to be balanced in the run and pass, keep the sticks in favorable down and distance. I thought he played very well.”
So did Adams.
The Packers’ No. 1 receiver, Adams caught five passes for 82 yards and a 55-yard touchdown.
The problem was Bell and Brown played even better.
Bell rushed 20 times for 95 yards, a 4.8 average, and also caught 12 passes (in 14 targets) for another 88 yards.
Brown’s highlight film was even better than Bell’s.
Brown – the NFL’s best receiver if Atlanta’s Julio Jones isn’t – hauled in 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. It was his 23-yard toe-tap on the sideline that was critical in setting up Boswell’s late game-winner.
It came after the Packers’ impressive 12-play, 77-yard drive that tied the game. Hundley’s play on the crucial tying drive was almost Rodgers-like.
The Steelers hadn’t given up an opening-drive touchdown in 27 straight games, but the Packers ended that streak.
“It was a close game and it came down to the wire and it hurts when you don’t finish it off,” Adams said. “I think this team can rally together and finish strong.”
The Packers’ defense surrendered 31 points, but it also forced three turnovers (to zero by Green Bay) and played hard throughout. In fact, this might be the hardest I’ve seen the Packers’ defense play all season.
They didn’t quit. They gang-tackled and they hung together.
Now, the Packers have two winnable games (at home against Tampa Bay and on the road at Cleveland) ahead of them.
Wins would lift them to 3-5 without Rodgers.
Considering where the Packers appeared to be going into Pittsburgh – and where they are at today – it would be an impressive feat.