Rapid reaction: Same ending, but far different script

Frustrations remain, but Packers have more going for them now

Packers QB Jordan Love

PITTSBURGH – Jordan Love is getting tired of plane flights home like this.

For the third straight road game, crunch-time chances with the ball in his hand ended in interceptions. First there was Vegas, then Denver, then Sunday in Pittsburgh – twice – in a 23-19 defeat.

"Very frustrating," Love said afterward. "We've been put in this situation a lot of times, but we have not found a way to win it.

"It is frustrating, but we've just got to find a way, dig deeper. It comes down to so many different plays in the game. We can execute better to take advantage of those situations. We've got to definitely find a way."

First, let's take a look at some of those "different plays" before getting back to Love.

One was a really tough break, on a backwards pass in the second quarter by Steelers QB Kenny Pickett that was ruled incomplete instead of a fumble, and replay review didn't change the call. The Packers would've had the ball near Pittsburgh's goal line, if not scored a touchdown on defense, had they gotten the call.

"I thought it was pretty clear to me," LaFleur said of the ball, which was dropped in the flat, traveling backwards. "Somebody else felt differently. That's the way it is. I guess I was wrong."

Check out photos from the Week 10 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.

Two mistakes of their own doing also put the Packers in a tougher spot than they should've been in, and reinforced how doing the little things right or wrong can have a gigantic impact.

On the final drive, Aaron Jones has to get out of bounds when he catches the checkdown near the boundary with the clock under 50 seconds with no timeouts. He tried to get some yards, got none, and the Packers lost nearly 20 seconds that might've given them more than one shot at the end zone on the final play.

LaFleur sorely lamented that error afterward in speaking with the media.

Before that, the blocked extra point was something the Packers specifically prepared to prevent.

"Going into the game we coached, they're going to try to time up the snap," LaFleur said. "We were supposed to use a dummy snap count in that situation. A lot of times they go off our holder's hand, and we wanted to throw it off a little bit."

Instead, savvy veteran Patrick Peterson's unblocked snuff of the PAT off the edge hung over this game until the very last snap.

Clearly, if the Packers could've kicked a tying field goal on either of those last two drives – even though they were tired of kicking field goals on their third-quarter possessions – the ending might've become a whole different story.

That said, as disappointed as Love is with more late-game INTs, there's so much more about this performance to be encouraged about, even on those two crunch-time drives themselves.

He began each with explosive gains on well-thrown balls, 28 yards to Luke Musgrave and 46 yards to Jayden Reed. On the first drive, he converted on third-and-10 with a bullet over the middle to Dontayvion Wicks for 32 yards. On the second, he found AJ Dillon on a fourth-and-2 checkdown to keep the game alive.

In all, throwing for 289 yards on the road against the Steelers will give upcoming opponents more to think about than this offense had managed for a while.

Even Love acknowledged there's more to hang the hat on from this one, but now it's the desired result that must follow.

"The main point is we didn't win," he said. "That's what we're trying to do. A lot of growth, a lot of positive things we can build upon."

Such as the pass protection against edge-rushing dynamos T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, who were held to just one sack and three QB hits over more than 40 drop-backs.

That kind of effort and execution against the Raiders' Maxx Crosby, for instance, would've helped immensely. But bygones are bygones and all the Packers can do is move forward.

They did that Sunday in Pittsburgh. No, they didn't win. They chalked up another loss full of regrets.

But these regrets hurt more, don't they? This game had a familiar ending, but it wasn't a familiar loss. The why seems obvious.

"Definitely a lot of plays we left out there, some drives we left points out there," Love said. "But I definitely like the direction we're headed as an offense.

"It just comes down to execution, making plays at the end right there. We have to find a way to make those plays to win it."


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