The Green Bay Packers' 20-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers changed on one play.
Down 6 to 3, the Packers had the ball at the Pittsburgh 12-yard-line when rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden sacked Brett Favre to force a fumble, and safety Troy Polamalu returned it 77 yards for a touchdown.
"It was a huge turning point in the game," Favre said. "It's hard to overcome that."
The Packers, who outgained the Steelers by 55 yards, left more points on the board as well. With 31 seconds left in the first half and a chance to cut the lead to 13-6, Ryan Longwell missed a 31-yard field goal.
"We should have made the kick," Longwell said.
The Packers also suffered their share of penalties, committing eight for 74 yards on the day, including two illegal shifts and back-to-back false starts by Adrian Klemm and Bubba Franks on the two plays immediately preceding Polamalu's fumble return.
Those gaffes overshadowed a solid game by the Packers defense, which held the Steelers to 213 overall yards. Charlie Batch, starting for injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, compiled only 65 passing yards. The Steelers offense did not convert one third down, going 0-for-8 on the day.
"Our defense played outstanding," Favre said. "We have to help them out."
The Packers also held running back Willie Parker to 13 yards on five carries before he hurt his ankle in the third quarter and did not return. Running back Duce Staley received his first carries of the season, amassing 15 carries for 76 yards. The Steelers totaled 154 rushing yards, but 43 of those came on an end around to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. That run would help set up a Jeff Reed 32-yard field goal.
The end around, the first play of the game, served as an omen for the mistake-filled loss, which dropped the Packers to 1-7.
"In the position we're in, every mistake is a pivotal one," Head Coach Mike Sherman said.
Despite those mistakes the Packers may have found a diamond in the rough in running back Samkon Gado. Playing in his second NFL game, the rookie ran 26 times for 62 yards and one touchdown.
"Sam did a very good job for a guy who hadn't played before," Sherman said. "He ran hard, picked his holes against a good defense."
Gado played because of season-ending injuries to running backs Ahman Green (quadriceps tendon) and Najeh Davenport (ankle). No. 3 running back Tony Fisher missed the game because of a fractured rib, and Sherman discussed the possibility that he may not heal for a couple of weeks.
Running back ReShard Lee started the game but fumbled on the third play of the Packers' second drive. Polamalu, who seemed to be all over the field, recovered that fumble on the Green Bay 45-yard-line to set up the Steelers' second field goal of the game and a 6-0 lead.
"Right out of the blocks, I said the one thing you can't do is turn the ball over," Sherman said. "He did."
Lee finished with three yards on two carries and did not see further action after the fumble.
The most costly mistake, however, occurred during the sack and forced fumble by McFadden. The Packers had an empty backfield on 3rd-and-12. Tight end Donald Lee served as the hot read, but Favre, who threw for 214 yards, tried to hit running back Walt Williams. The Steelers sent a safety blitz, breaking up the play for a game-changing score.
"They caught us in a good situation," Sherman said. "Fourteen points is a huge swing."
Donald Lee gave chase in a valiant effort to bring down Polamalu, but McFadden made an excellent block to secure the return.
That fumble was one of three Packers turnovers on the day, including a tipped Favre pass that bounced off both of Donald Driver's before safety Tyrone Carter intercepted it at the Green Bay 23-yard line. Carter's intercpetion led to the Steelers' final score (a three-yard Staley run).
That interception along with the second quarter fumble overshadowed the positives of a game in which the Packers moved the ball effectively and limited the Steelers' offense.
"That's the story of our season," Favre said.