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Packers did everything right Sunday--except win

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Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

PITTSBURGH--This was a game where the Green Bay Packers did everything required of them in the absence of starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They forced turnovers—three of them. They scored on explosive gains—three times. And their backup quarterback, Brett Hundley, guided a 12-play, 77-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They even stopped the Steelers’ offense to give the ball back to Hundley with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining.

None of it mattered. The Steelers covered 35 yards in 17 seconds to set up a game-winning field goal attempt by kicker Chris Boswell. A timeout by the Packers to ice him proved unsuccessful, and Boswell drilled a 53-yarder to win, 31-28, as time expired.

The Packers drop below .500 with the loss and inch closer to missing the playoffs.

EXPLOSIVE GAINS

Ever since the injury to Rodgers, who broke his collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers have lacked the kind of explosive, downfield gains that allow for scores in bunches.

But the offense jolted to life Sunday due in part to solid execution and several blunders by the Steelers. When a blown coverage left wide receiver Randall Cobb alone on the left sideline, Hundley found him for a 39-yard touchdown. When Davante Adams toasted cornerback Coty Sensabaugh at the line of scrimmage, Hundley lofted a pass downfield that allowed Adams to juke the safety and dive in for a 55-yard score. And after several issues on screen passes in recent weeks—the timing had been questionable at best—Hundley connected with tailback Jamaal Williams for a 54-yard catch and run with key blocks from center Corey Linsley and left guard Lane Taylor.

At the end of the third quarter, Hundley’s stat line showed nine completions for 170 yards and three touchdowns.

TURNOVER TALLY

One week after the Packers found themselves on the wrong end of a turnover brigade, the defense responded with three crucial takeaways against the Steelers. Cornerback Damarious Randall sliced in front of wide receiver Eli Rogers to intercept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first half, and the Packers turned it into a touchdown.

They picked off Roethlisberger for a second time when outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks tipped a screen pass over the middle of the field. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez made a sliding interception, but kicker Mason Crosby missed the ensuing 57-yard field-goal attempt. The Packers also failed to capitalize on a fumble by running back Le’Veon Bell early in the fourth quarter when their offense went three and out.

MAIN MAN

With running backs Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) sidelined due to injury, the rushing attack belonged to the rookie Williams for the second consecutive week. This time, coach Mike McCarthy made a conscious effort to get Williams the ball from the opening drive, which wasn’t the case a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens.

Williams runs hard and runs with purpose, barreling into contact and unafraid to take hits. He carried 21 times for 66 yards and scored on the 54-yard screen pass. Fellow rookie Devante Mays was not part of the game plan after fumbling on each of his first two carries last week. He did not play from scrimmage.

EDGE RUSH

The Packers were dealt a significant blow 90 minutes before kickoff when outside linebacker Clay Matthews was named among the inactives. Matthews injured his groin in last week’s loss to the Ravens and did not practice during the week. As with most injured players, Matthews went through an on-field workout several hours before kickoff under the watchful eyes of the medical staff.

But Matthews was unable to play, and the Packers turned instead to Brooks and Kyler Fackrell alongside starter Nick Perry. The early production was nonexistent, and the Packers registered zero quarterback hits in the first half. They finished with two quarterback hits for the entire game.

BLOCKING CHANGE

The Packers have relied heavily on utility lineman Justin McCray this season. McCray, who signed with the team as a street free agent during the offseason, has played both tackles and both guard spots in various situations.

But the Packers made a change for Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Rather than using McCray at right tackle—which they had done since starter Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL—the Packers handed the job to Jason Spriggs, their former second-round pick.

Spriggs was placed on injured reserve earlier this season after suffering a hamstring injury in the opener against the Seattle Seahawks. He came off IR earlier this month with one of the designated-to-return spots.

INJURY REPORT

Cornerback Kevin King missed a large portion of the first half after aggravating the shoulder injury that has plagued him all season. King returned early in the third quarter and finished the game. He was beaten for a touchdown pass on a beautiful throw from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. King bit hard on a slant fake from Brown, and that opened an easy throwing lane to the back pylon. The score tied the game, 21-21, late in the third quarter. Randall missed portions of the second half with cramps.



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