The Green Bay Packers have struggled to do what the Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing consistently all season long: winning close games. The situation came up again in Sunday’s game between the two teams, with no team holding a lead of more than four points during the entire second half, but as has been the case throughout much of 2023, the Packers could not find a way to come out on top.
With the Steelers clinging to a 23-19 lead in the fourth quarter, a late interception by Keanu Neal — on a ball Jordan Love threw to Christian Watson in the end zone — largely put an end to the Packers’ comeback hopes. Green Bay had one last chance late, needing to go 81 yards in 59 seconds. They made it to the Steelers’ 16-yard line, but on the final play of the game, Love threw his second pick in the final minutes and Pittsburgh held on for a 23-19 victory.
Love played one of his better games of the season overall, however, and his touch on his deep ball looked significantly improved. Green Bay had several explosive plays in the passing game, with Love throwing for a season-high 289 yards. The Packers’ offensive line even did a decent job of limiting the impact that pass rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith had in the game, allowing just one sack to Watt. But ultimately, the offense’s inability to score touchdowns in the red zone again cost them dearly, as did the leaky Green Bay defense allowing over 200 rushing yards to the Steelers.
Additionally, a blocked extra point ended up looming large. Had the Packers been down three points instead of four at the end of the game, they could have kicked a late field goal to send the game to overtime. But Josiah Deguara missed a block on a PAT in the second quarter, and the four-point edge forced the Packers to go for a late touchdown rather than playing for extra time.
The whole complexion of the game might have changed late in the second quarter, but a questionable call by the referees cost the Packers a turnover — and perhaps a touchdown. The Steelers failed to complete a pass that appeared to go backwards, and Rashan Gary was able to make a clear recovery of the football and walk into the end zone. However, the play was ruled an incomplete forward pass on the field, a ruling that was surprisingly upheld on video review, erasing a turnover that would have at least set up the Packers inside the Steelers’ ten-yard line. Had the Packers punched in a touchdown, they could have had a lead at halftime, but instead, Pittsburgh was ahead 17-13 at the break and held on for the victory.
Based on the offensive results in the first half, one would never know that these two teams had both struggled mightily in the first 30 minutes of games this season. The Steelers took the opening kickoff and drove straight down the heart of the Packers’ defense, getting 32 rushing yards from Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. The only third down on the drive saw Carrington Valentine commit a pass interference penalty, and Harris punched in the football for a 4-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh an early lead.
The Packers responded immediately, however, as Jordan Love hit Christian Watson twice for 23 yards and found Dontayvion Wicks for a 23-yard gain as well to get into the red zone. On third-and-7 from the 8-yard line, Love lofted a perfect ball to Romeo Doubs in the back right corner of the end zone, providing an immediate answer to tie the game at 7-7.
Pittsburgh kept the ball on the ground on their next series as they took back their lead behind Jaylen Warren. Anders Carlson’s kickoff went out of bounds and the Steelers quickly drove 60 yards, gashing the Packers’ nickel defense with the run. Keisean Nixon briefly appeared to have an interception, but he was unable to get both feet down in bounds, and a few plays later, Warren scored from 16 yards out.
The Packers failed to respond on their second drive, however, going three and out thanks in part to a brutal third-down drop by Christian Watson. Pittsburgh added to their lead on their third series with a field goal, going up 17-7 midway through the second quarter with each of their three series eating up five minutes of game clock.
Green Bay responded with the longest run of AJ Dillon’s career, a 40-yarder off left guard. The Steelers left the entire left side of the defense open as Dillon ran a counter to the left, which left a ton of green space in front of him. Three plays later, Love delivered a strike to Jayden Reed for a 35-yard touchdown, giving them more than 10 points in the first half of a game for the first time in the 2023 season. Josiah Deguara allowed a free rusher to block the PAT, but check out this impressive throw and catch for the score that made it 17-13:
Green Bay should have had a scoop-and-score on defense on the next series — or at least a recovery of a fumble on a missed lateral pass from Kenny Pickett to Warren — but an inexplicable call by the referees to rule it a forward pass allowed Pittsburgh to punt the football away instead. The teams traded punts before the half, as the Steelers took a 17-13 lead into the locker room.
Out of the break, Keisean Nixon delivered a return of nearly 50 yards for a second straight week, giving the Packers fantastic field position across midfield. It took a 4th-and-6 attempt to move the chains the first time on the series, but Love hit Aaron Jones for enough yardage to get the first down. Jones picked up another conversion with a 12-yard catch on 3rd-and-3, The Packers had to settle for a field goal, but that cut Pittsburgh’s lead down to one point.
After a quick punt by the Steelers, Green Bay took its first lead of the game behind a couple of explosive pass plays. Love found Doubs over the middle for 20 yards, then he hit Luke Musgrave up the seam for a beautiful 36-yard gain to the 15. The Packers had to settle for another field goal, but Carlson gave the Packers a 19-17 lead with a hit from 28 yards out. Pittsburgh retook the lead just a few minutes later with a field goal of their own, with Chris Boswell hitting a 49-yarder.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Packers had a 3rd-and-11, and they tried a trick play to move the chains. Jordan Love threw forward to Dontayvion Wicks on the left, who threw the ball backwards, all the way back to Aaron Jones on the right side. Jones looked to have blockers and some space, but he dropped the football and had to fall on it to avoid a turnover, leading to a Packers punt.
After the teams traded punts, the Steelers got their run game going again, running several minutes off the clock. Warren again picked up multiple carries of double-digit yards. The Packers got a stop in field goal range, where Boswell extended Pittsburgh’s lead back up to four points with just over five minutes remaining.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Love hit Musgrave for 28 yards, getting into Steelers territory instantly. Three plays later, he found a wide-open Wicks once again, gaining 32 yards down to the 15-yard line. Love then dialed up a shot to Watson, but the Packers’ threat was nullified — the throw was a bit underthrown and Patrick Peterson got a hand on the football, tipping it to safety Keanu Neal for an interception in the end zone.
The Packers weren’t entirely out of chances, though, as they used their three timeouts, the two-minute warning, and an offensive pass interference penalty on a would-be third-down conversion by George Pickens to get the football back with 59 seconds remaining.
On the first play, an off-balance Love found a wide-open Reed, who tracked down a 46-yard gain to get the drive off to a good start. A completion to Aaron Jones for no gain took the clock under 30 seconds, then Love ran out of bounds after a 7-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-3. Love escaped a sack to throw the football away, preserving a chance on 4th down that Love converted with an 11-yard throw to Dillon. That required a spike to stop the clock, giving the Packers one last chance from the 16 with three seconds left. Pittsburgh set up their entire secondary on the goal line, and Damontae Kazee jumped Love’s throw to Watson, picking off the pass and finally putting an end to the Packers’ threat and the game.
The result drops the Packers to 3-6 on the season, while the Steelers improve to 6-3. Green Bay will return home next week to face the Los Angeles Chargers.