Brown’s eye-popping catch sets up Boswell’s Packers-dropping FG at the buzzer

The score: Pittsburgh 31, Green Bay 28

The bottom line: As has become custom, the Steelers defense (with a big assist from the worst officiating crew in football) made a terrible quarterback look like Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, but this time the Pittsburgh offense was more than up to the challenge, matching Brett Hundley TD for TD then mounting an improbable last-second drive that ended with an improbabler (can we trademark that?) 53-yard game-winning field goal from Chris Boswell.

It was over when…: Boswell rarely gets a chance to kick 50+ yard field goals (as Mike Tomlin inexplicably takes his home-field philosophy on the road with him) but he was calm as could be in dropping the game winner over the crossbar Sunday, sending many deer-hunting Steelers fans to bed immediately with a smile on their faces.

Play of the day: Antonio Brown has made some I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw catches before but his Tony Toe Tap routine with :13 remaining might just top them all. The 23-yard gainer took the Steelers final drive from longshot to good shot in just :04 seconds. That this amazing catch was only marginally better than the rest of Brown’s night tells you all you need to know about how important he is to the Steelers.

Player of the game: For as bad as the Steelers secondary played, where would Pittsburgh have been without Cam Heyward, who was a destructive force all night for the Packers running game, finishing with six tackles, and a terror in the passing game, recording three hurried and two sacks of Brett Hundley.

Hot topics:

+ Don’t ask us to put any logic behind this, but we “feel” like it’s better for the Steelers to have their resume questioned and to have national commentators ripping on them at 9-2 than to be universally praised as the best team in the division, conference or league. There is something about the dynamic of external criticism vs. an internal message of confidence (a la Mike Tomlin’s “we should win it all” quote Sunday) that seems to work for Pittsburgh.

+ The Steelers officially have a Bud Dupree problem. The excuses about a shoulder injury hindering his play no longer apply. He is a highly paid defender, manning a critical position and he is simply not getting it done. On Sunday, he was a complete non-factor in the game, looking like (dare we say it?) Jarvis Jones. At some point, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler have to swallow their pride and get James Harrison back on the field. There’s a championship to be won.

+ Ben Roethlisberger was excellent again, with mostly good decision making and accurate throws. Take away five first-half drops by his receivers and this one might have been a more comfortable outcome. That said, it was nice to see Martavis Bryant and even Eli Rogers finally catch some balls in meaningful situations. That can only help down the stretch.

+ The Steelers secondary is a mess again and it certainly looks like communication is a big problem with blown assignments rearing their ugly head too frequently. Get well, Joe Haden. Get well. After being almost invisible during the season’s first eight games, Artie Burns suddenly is front and center in this mess with a ton of mental mistakes and some of the worst tackling (and truly, that word doesn’t even apply to some of Burns’ attempts at getting an opponent on the ground) we’ve ever seen on a professional football field.

In the booth:

+ How good is Chris Collinsworth at turning X-and-O talk into something the mass audience watching NFL games can understand? That’s rhetorical. He’s very good, and illustrated that twice in the first half on Artie Burns’ blown deep-third coverage on the Packer’s first score and Ryan Shazier’s too-cute fake blitz that led to Green Bay’s second score on the long screen pass.

+ After a Packers receiver dropped an easy first-half pass, Collinsworth also made a great point about how hard it is to run and concentrate on the football with your arms extended. Even Al Michaels was in awe on that one.

Game mismanagement:

+ Mike Tomlin was having such a good night of staying out of his own way until late in the fourth quarter when he had to punt it to Green Bay, who took over at their own 18 with about 90 seconds remaining and the Steelers possessing all three timeouts. The strategy here is elementary, first grade stuff. If your defense gets a stop on first down, you use your timeouts. The Steelers defense did its part with a sack of Brett Hundley and….no timeout, resulting in a loss of about :30 on the clock. That meant Pittsburgh took possession back with :17 left instead of :47 left. That should have been bad for the Steelers, but as has become the norm during this win streak, even Tomlin’s game management faux pas turn to gold.

+ Of course, the game turned on Mike McCarthy’s bizarre decision to try a 57-yard field goal while holding the lead in the third quarter. The only thing we can think of to rationalize the decision is that McCarthy felt conditions were similar to Lambeau Field, but even then, the game situation screamed to punt the football.

Zebra hunting:

+ That is a terrible officiating crew. Just terrible. Show that to other officials as an example of what not to do. They somehow managed to be grossly overofficious while ringing up only eight assessed penalties. That’s bad.

+ Two calls, in particular, completely changed the complexion of the game. The first was the ridiculous hands-to-the-face call on Artie Burns that negated a Steelers sack and what should have been an ensuing Packers punt and then led to Green Bay’s first score. The second was blind oversight of blatant pass interference against Antonio Brown on a third down play and Pittsburgh drove at the end of the first half. At least a 10-point swing on those two plays.

+ Two plays in the game perfectly exhibited the brutally gray NFL rules on helmet hits. The first was a short pass to Le’Veon Bell inside the Packers 10 on Pittsburgh’s first drive where the RB took not one, but two head shots as he turned upfield with the catch. Bell would seem to meet the criteria of a receiver in a defenseless position on that play but no flag. Later, in the fourth quarter, a flying T.J. Watt went helmet-to-helmet with a sort-of scrambling Brett Hundley, who was clearly still in the pocket, but who appeared to be preparing to run. Did that negate Hundley’s protection? Did the fact Watt came in crown-first merit a penalty regardless? No flag was thrown, but we guarantee you one would have been had the quarterback on that play been Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

Sweet tweets:

+ @shawncurtis430: “Renegade” is making a rare third-quarter appearance. Could this mean double “Renegade”? So many jigs will be up if that happens. (Blogger’s note: It did mean double Renegade with a second playing coming just before Pittsburgh allowed a soon-to-be-forgotten backup quarterback to drive the length of the field late in the fourth quarter of a critical game for a tying score. If you’re going to play the stupid song, at least do it right. On time with that time being THE TIME the Pittsburgh defense could seal the win with a stop or change the game with a turnover.)

Next week: The still-breathing Cincinnati Bengals will be playing for their playoff lives next Monday when Pittsburgh invades for the Gruden Treatment on MNF. Cincy saved its season with a big win at Denver two weeks ago and got within a game of .500 by taking care of the hapless Browns Sunday. So what looked like a chance for the Bengals to play spoiler a few weeks ago now looms as legitimate chance for them to get back in the AFC Wild Card picture. Joe Mixon, who did very little against Pittsburgh in the two teams’ first meeting, has now emerged as a significant threat in the Bengals backfield.


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