PITTSBURGH – All week, the Packers stressed the importance of moving the football against the Pittsburgh Steelers while maximizing their opportunities in the red zone.
Green Bay hit the target when it came to explosive plays on Sunday, but the situational meter tilting towards the Steelers factored heavily into their 23-19 victory over the Packers in front of 67,617 at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.
Green Bay outgained Pittsburgh 399-324 but fell short in several key categories, beginning with a 1-for-5 success rate inside the Steelers' 20-yard line. Conversely, Pittsburgh found the end zone on both of its first series to seize control of the game.
"It was very crucial," running back Aaron Jones said. "We can't get three (points) down here. We need to get six, at least. It came back to bite us a little bit. We just gotta go back to the drawing board and be better in the red zone, in those situations, so we can put points on the board."
Green Bay didn't find the red zone again until the third quarter and both times had to settle for Anders Carlson field goals, the second of which gave the Packers their first and only lead over the Steelers, 19-17.
That lead last only a few minutes, as Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett hit George Pickens for a 28-yard back-shoulder completion – the Steelers' longest offensive play – to spark a five-play, 35-yard drive that led to a Chris Boswell 49-yard field goal.
Check out photos from the Week 10 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.
"I think we started fast. We got a touchdown the first drive, which was great," tight end Luke Musgrave said. "We got some momentum rolling, but like Coach (Matt) LaFleur said, we were kind of behind the eight-ball the whole game. It was going to be a four-quarter fight. We knew that."
The Steelers countered Green Bay's flare with four quarters of finesse. Building on their best game of the season against Tennessee in Week 9, running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren powered Pittsburgh to 205 yards and two TDs on 36 carries.
Pickett was economical with the football, completing 14 of 23 passes for 126 yards with no turnovers. While the Packers' defense settled in during the second and third quarters, the Steelers rode the momentum from scoring TDs on back-to-back possessions to start a game for the first time this season.
Green Bay also had an extra point blocked when it tried to match Pittsburgh's second score, causing the Packers to trail throughout.
Harris and Warren did just enough in the fourth quarter for Pittsburgh to tack on an extra field goal while helping run out the clock. It was the third time Green Bay has allowed more than 200 rushing yards in a game this season.
"We knew they wanted to run the ball and at the end of the day we didn't do enough," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "We got into kind of a flow at the end of the first, second and third quarter but we gave up too many yards, quarterback scrambles, letting Najee run around, (number) '30' run away."
The Packers had two fourth-quarter cracks at a comeback on long drives that started with explosive plays – a 28-yard pass to Musgrave on a corner route and a 46-yard Reed crosser.
However, neither series produced the points Green Bay needed to pull ahead. Trailing 23-19 and 14 yards away from the go-ahead score, Love was picked off by Keanu Neal after Patrick Peterson deflected a pass intended for Christian Watson.
After getting the ball back one more time with 59 seconds left, Green Bay advanced all the way down to the Pittsburgh 16. With just three seconds left, however, the Steelers littered their goal line with defensive backs and picked off Love's attempt at a game-winning TD pass to Watson.
"It's just a play where you've got to try to get in the end zone, make something happen," Watson said. "They just played it well. I thought I saw an opening at first. As soon as I broke in, I'm sure J-Love saw the same thing. Obviously, they brought one of their guys out of the zone and just made a play on it."
Pittsburgh came into Sunday ranked 31st in yards allowed, but third in takeaways. The Steelers added two more to that total late, while Green Bay is still looking to close the gap that caused the Packers to now drop four straight games on the road.
"It's the NFL. It's a game of inches," Reed said. "Every little thing counts. That's a part of the game. They got players over there that get paid too to make plays. We've just got to find ways to get better and continue to grow."