Not With a Bang, but a Whimper - Steelers: 38 Packers: 31
For the two previous weeks and for much of the fourth quarter, the Packers thrived on their opponents mistakes. A missed pass here and there against Atlanta. Tony Romo being Tony Tomo last week. A.J. Hawk's unbelievable interception this week. Every time an opponent made a small mistake, the Packers were there, ready to exploit it and make it a big mistake.
This week, it seemed like the script would be the same, starting with Hawk's pick. For all the world, it felt like the Packers were about to break the game open and seize the lead...but it never happened. What happened instead was Nick Perry jumping into the neutral zone, Don Barclay (and the whole right side of the offensive line, really) false starting, and Matt Flynn deciding he should wait until there were three seconds remaining on the clock before snapping the ball on what would be the game's final play.
If you still think the Packers deserve to be a playoff team, I'll point to those three plays as definitive proof that they do not. The game was there for the taking, but instead of leaping to grab the moment with both hands, they took the feeblest possible swipe at their opponent. That's hardly the mark of a playoff team.
Eddie Lacy (15 carries, 84 yards, 2 TD) - Lacy's wonderful rookie season continued Sunday, as he barreled through the Steelers for 84 hard charging yards. Had he not re-tweaked his ankle. Lacy would likely have finished with well over a hundred yards.
James Jones (9 taches, 84 yards) - Playing the role of savvy veteran receiver this week, James Jones! His numbers are down a bit for the season, but Sunday he got tough yards and did the little things (like his ever-so-slight push off on a catch in the second half) that led to a good day. At the right price, Jones would be worth bringing back next year.
Mike Neal (5 tackles) - He didn't sack a quarterback, force a fumble, or intercept a pass, but Mike Neal showed this week that the move to linebacker has been a success, making athletic plays in space and contributing to the defense even when he couldn't get to the quarterback. He was exposed in coverage once, but overall, Neal was very good.
1,112 - Eddie Lacy's season rushing total, a record for rookies. Given his newly re-injured ankle, it's worth wondering if we'll see him again. Whether we do or not, this has been a fun ride. I hope it's the first of many.
1,094 - Days since A.J. Hawk's last interception, which happened December 26th, 2010. Seriously, go look it up. I know people have long complained about Hawk not making plays, but that's a little ridiculous. At least he put that streak to bed on Sunday.
143 - Combined yardage of Micah Hyde's three longest kickoff returns Sunday. The rookie had three excellent returns this week, taking kicks back 33, 40, and 70 yards, each one besting the Packers' previous season long. So I guess he's too slow, huh? (Actually, he might be...but he admits it rather sneakily in a conversation with reporters after the game.)
Running Wild - Running wild might be an overstatement, but when the Packers wanted rushing yards on Sunday, they got them. Eddie Lacy bashed his way to 84. James Starks slashed to 47 more. Even John Kuhn sneakily slid to 12 yards and a touchdown.
Hawkman Cometh - Yeah, he doesn't do it enough. Yeah, fifth overall was probably too high for A.J. Hawk, in hindsight. But darn it if he hasn't been good this year, and his beautiful interception Sunday just continued his above average year.
Bouncing Back - Sean Richardson continued his nice bounce back story with three solo tackles on Sunday, at least two of which were at or behind the line of scrimmage by my count. Richarson's return might bode well for Jermichael Finley's future as he is also returning from cervical fusion surgery. Whether Finley duplicates Richardson's return or not, the big safety is proving to be a valuable asset.
Nick's Numbskull Nightmare - Mr. Perry, how do you jump offside on what could be the game's deciding play?
Don's Dunderheaded Disaster - Mr. Barclay, how do you commit a false start on what could be the game's deciding play?
Matt's Mystifying Moment - Mr. Flynn, how do you let seven seconds run off the clock without snapping the ball on the game's deciding play? No seriously, how does it happen? We did this same dance three years ago when you stepped in for Aaron Rodgers at New England. You drove the team down the field late, only to once again bungle the late game clock management. I want to say mean things to you, but I will end the paragraph instead.
Next Up - The Packers, somehow, will still have a chance to make the playoffs. They'll just have to beat the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Kickoff is in flux because of the NFL's flexing moves.