Back in 2008, Aaron Rodgers had a chance to produce game-winning drives in the final minutes on eight occasions.
Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ first-year starting quarterback, failed all eight times. And in games decided by four points, or less that year, the Packers went 0-8.
Jordan Love, Green Bay’s first-year starter, is enduring similar growing pains in 2023.
Green Bay fell at Pittsburgh, 23-19, Sunday in a game where Love had two chances to pull the game out late. Instead, Love threw interceptions on both drives and the Packers fell to 3-6 on the season.
Green Bay’s season could be much different, but it’s now 1-4 in games decided by four points, or less. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, improved to 6-3 and is a perfect 6-0 in one score games.
“The mental makeup of this group is find ways to win,” Steelers defensive lineman Cam Hayward said. “And we don’t apologize for it.”
They shouldn’t. It’s why they’re a playoff team today.
Meanwhile, the Packers’ inability to win close games is why they’ve lost five of their last six games and are a team heading nowhere fast.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly from Pittsburgh’s win over Green Bay.
LOVE SHACK: Love’s final numbers weren’t attractive: 21-of-40 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 71.8.
For most of the day, though, Love was precise and made good decisions. The ending just wasn’t what Love or the Packers wanted.
But playing on the road against one of the NFL’s better teams, Love gave his young team a chance to win. If he eventually learns how to do that, he’ll have a bright future.
ROMEO, ROMEO: Packers second-year wideout Romeo Doubs has become a touchdown machine and had an 8-yard TD against the Steelers.
Doubs lined up wide right and headed for the corner of the endzone midway through the fourth quarter. Jordan Love threw a strike and Doubs did a terrific job getting his toes down for the score.
Doubs now has 33 receptions this season, and six of those have gone for touchdowns — a remarkable 18.2%.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE?: Love had arguably his best throw of the year when he connected with Jayden Reed for a 35-yard second quarter touchdown.
Reed lined up in the right slot and ran a corner post to the left. Reed got a step behind two defenders and Love delivered a perfect ball.
Love has struggled with deep ball accuracy all year, but his pass to Reed was as good of a throw as you’ll find.
Reed himself had a terrific day, leading the Packers in receptions (five) and yards (84).
THIS AND THAT: Keisean Nixon had a 49-yard kick return to open the second half, his longest return of the season. … The Packers converted a fourth-and-6 on their first drive of the second half when Love hit Aaron J0nes for seven yards. That play helped set up a 31-yard Anders Carlson field goal. … Rookie tight end Luke Musgrave had two receptions for 64 yards. … Safety Rudy Ford, a game-time decision, was remarkably active and tied for the team-lead with 10 tackles.
RUN DEFENSE: After a rough start to the 2023 campaign, Green Bay’s rushing defense was making strides. The Packers entered Sunday’s game allowing 124.0 rushing yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry.
Green Bay took a step back, though, allowing the Steelers to run for 205 yards on 36 carries (5.7).
What had to be extremely frustrating for the Packers is Pittsburgh entered the game ranked 24th in rushing offense, averaging just 90.5 yards per game. But the Steelers more than doubled that total against a Green Bay run defense that was sieve-like again.
GETTING CUTE: Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur has dialed up more trick plays this year than ever before. He called for one on the first play of the fourth quarter that went up in flames.
On a third-and-11 from their own 33, Jordan Love hit Dontayvion Wicks with a short pass in the left flat. Wicks then threw back across the field for running back Aaron Jones.
Jones had some blockers and might have had enough of a wall to pick up the first down. But Jones dropped the pass, and by the time he recovered the lateral, lost five yards.
THIS AND THAT: Keisean Nixon had a costly holding call on the Steelers’ second drive that eventually led to a Jaylen Warren rushing touchdown. … Christian Watson had a drop that killed Green Bay’s second possession. … T.J. Slaton’s sack of Kenny Pickett was wiped away when Packers safety Jonathan Owens was flagged for defensive holding. … Andres Carlson’s second extra point was blocked by Patrick Peterson. … Jayden Reed fumbled a fourth quarter punt, but recovered his own miscue. … On the Packers’ final possession, Aaron Jones should have run out of bounds after catching a short pass. Instead, he came back to the middle of the field, was tackled for no gain, and Green Bay lost roughly 20 seconds.
SORRY START: The Steelers entered the game averaging just 16.6 points per game. On Pittsburgh’s first three possessions, it scored 17 points against a Green Bay defense that didn’t appear ready to play.
The Steelers marched 58 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their opening possession. Running back Najeh Harris capped the march with a 4-yard rushing score.
Jaylen Warren ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run on Pittsburgh’s second possession. And the Steelers’ third possession ended with a 42-yard Chris Boswell field goal.
Pittsburgh gobbled up 165 yards, had 13 first downs and kept the ball for 15 ½ minutes on its first three possessions. It was the kind of start Green Bay’s defense couldn’t afford.
THE END: Love threw interceptions on the Packers’ final two possessions that killed any hopes of a comeback.
The first was a 50-50 ball for Christian Watson that Patrick Peterson tipped and Keanu Neal intercepted. By now, Love should know that force feeding a ball to Watson in the endzone is a losing proposition.
On the final play of the game, Love again threw for Watson near the goal line, but Steelers safety Damontae Kazee intercepted.
Players like Luke Musgrave and Romeo Doubs have been more reliable with contested catches than Watson — and Love needs to look their way more, especially at crunch time.