This wild and crazy season will go down to the final week after the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers went down to the final snap at snowy Lambeau Field Sunday. The Steelers escaped with a 38-31 victory but because the Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed the Chicago Bears 54-11 Sunday night, the NFL's oldest rivals will settle the NFC North Division crown next Sunday afternoon at 3:25 PM at Solider Field.
After 7 inches of snow covered Titletown in the morning, a steady, light snow fell throughout the late afternoon creating a winter wonderland of big plays, strange calls and a bizzare finish. After Matt Flynn, making his 4th consecutive start for the injured Aaron Rodgers, fumbled at his own 17 with 1:51 to go in a 31-31 game, the defense was able to get a stop. But before Shaun Suisham could attempt a go ahead field goal, Nick Perry jumped offsides and the Steelers cashed in on Le'Veon Bell's 1 yard run with 1:25 to go. Micah Hyde nearly took the ensuing kickoff the distance, he was run down after a 70 yard return. Completions to Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless and a run by James Starks had the Pack at the 1 with :22 to go. That's when T.J. Lang committed a false start penalty that not only cost Green Bay five yards, but a :10 runoff of the clock. That's when it got weird. The officials wound the clock but it took nearly five seconds before they allowed Evan Dietrich-Smith to snap it. Flynn tried to hit Jarrett Boykin in the right side of the end zone but the pass sailed high, the game clock expired and the Packers suffered a heartbreaking loss. It appeared referee Carl Cheffers and umpire Undrey Walsh had a hard time getting together to spot the ball and start the clock properly. It wasn't their only issue. A third quarter fumble by Bell was recovered by Tramon Williams at the three yard line but the series stalled. After Mason Crosby had a field goal blocked, a wild scramble resulted in a rare penalty being called against the Steelers. They were flagged for batting the ball before any team had gained possession, even though replays showed Ryan Clark tried to lateral the ball. The flag gave the Packers a first down at the two and Eddie Lacy scored on the next play. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was furious and was told it was an unchallengeable call. That score put Green Bay back on top 21-17 but the Steelers answered with a Matt Spaeth touchdown catch on the next series.
A funny thing happened on the way to midfield for the Pack after Hyde returned the kickoff 39 yards. On the first play, Flynn tried a quick hitch to the outside receiver but Andrew Quarless flashed in front of the quarterback to pick up a blitzer. Quarless grazed Flynn, knocking him off balance and the ball fluttered toward Jarrett Boykin. Cortez Allen tipped it to himself and took the pick 40 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead.
An A.J. Hawk one handed interception led to a Crosby field goal and on the next series, John Kuhn walked in for a 1 yard touchdown and the game was even with 7:14 to play.
The defense held but the offense was backed up at their five. On third and 8, Flynn tried to scramble for the first down but had the ball knocked out by Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel recovered. That set up the oddball finish.
Bell would finish with 124 yards on the ground while Lacy had 84 yards and two scores before leaving the game after re-injuring his tender ankle. Lacy eclipsed John Brockington's rookie rushing record in a season with now 1112 yards.
The snow didn't slow down either offense, Green Bay outgained the Steelers 370-343, the Packers had 26 first downs and held a nearly 7 minute advantage in time of possession. But 9 penalties for 90 yards hurt as did the two, critical turnovers resulting in 14 easy points.
After the game, I toured the locker room for reaction:
The Packers may have lost Clay Matthews for the season after he recorded the 50th sack of his career. He re-injured his broken right thumb and had to leave the game. Brad Jones suffered an ankle injury, Lacy couldn't finish the game, Mike Neal suffered a stinger and Hyde hurt his shoulder on his big kickoff return.
The inactives were Aaron Rodgers, Nate Palmer, Lane Taylor, J.C. Tretter and Jerel Worthy. Only five were inactive because Brandon Bostick and Johnny Jolly were both placed on injured reserve on Saturday.
The attendance was 77.999 with plenty of Pittsburgh fans making the trip. They braved the snow and were entertained by a wild game and after the 16th NFL Sunday weekend, absolutely nothing was settled. The Lions were eliminated with another home loss, 23-20 in overtime to the Giants, the Bears laid a massive egg in Philly and even at 7-7-1, the Packers could capture a third straight division title with a win in the windy city.