For the moment, style points don’t matter

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin wasted no time in admitting the obvious:

His evaluation of the Steelers’ 31-28 victory over the injury-depleted Green Bay Packers Sunday night will be determined by the calendar.

In the moment, there was the warm glow of a victory that pushed the Steelers to 9-2 and kept them on track for the Dec. 19 showdown against New England.

But in the morning, he’ll review a game tape that’s full of mistakes that let an inferior team hang around and force the outcome to be determined by Chris Boswell’s 53-yard field goal.

“A win is a win,” is the way Ben Roethlisberger put it to NBC immediately after the game.

There’s no arguing that. Coaches get fired on the basis of their won-lost records, not by how well they competed or how close they kept it.

You want style points? Watch figure skating.

The difference in this one came down to the stars. The Steelers had theirs. They got outstanding performances from Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Roethlisberger.

The Packers were missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, who might be their most important defensive player.

The difference makers made the difference.

Brown was exceptional, making catches at critical times that no other receiver makes.

“We’re very lucky to have a guy like that,” defensive end Cam Heyward said of Brown.

He could have said the same thing about Bell, who ran for 95 yards, and also caught 12 passes for 88 more yards.

The Steelers found themselves down by 10 points twice in the game. This was alumni weekend, with many of the inaugural members of the Hall of Honor attending.

You couldn’t walk the hallways at Heinz Field without bumping into someone sporting a Hall of Fame ring.

You could say the current Steelers were inspired by their presence, but that wouldn’t be correct. The way to impress the old Steelers would have been to win by 30 rather than three.

“You always want to blow the team out,” Heyward said. “It doesn’t happen that way all the time.”

It didn’t happen that way this time. After the Steelers pulled ahead on one of Brown’s two touchdown catches, they marched backwards and were stunned by a tying 77-yard drive that included six first downs by the Packers.

The clanging in the chains moving provided a disturbing rhythm track.

“We had a couple of busted coverages,” Heyward said. “They came with a good plan.”

It looked like the Steelers may have made another costly mistake when Bell caught a pass that lost two yards on the last play before the winning field goal.

That pushed Boswell back to a 53-yard try, a distance that stood as the record in the 17 seasons at Heinz Field.

He made it with ease, aiming at the same goal posts where he missed an extra point earlier in the game.

He’s a star, too, and the stars ultimately came through for the Steelers.

The game was undoubtedly an emotional homecoming for Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, who made a regrettable decision by attempting a 57-yard field goal at the same end of the stadium.

It missed badly, and set up the Steelers with excellent field position for their last touchdown drive.

It wasn’t a masterpiece, but don’t try to sell Tomlin on that idea. At least not until it’s time to review the game tape with a coach’s critical eye.

“We’ll work at it, but we’ll work being 9-2,” Tomlin said. “And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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