Steelers vs. Packers: Takeaways from Green Bay's 38-31 Loss to Pittsburgh
The Packers played decent football throughout the game, but they were unable to close when they needed to. A late fumble from quarterback Matt Flynn resulted in the go-ahead score for the Steelers. The Packers also had a number of poor penalties in the final minutes of the game that contributed to the loss.
The Packers now sit at 7-7-1 on the season heading into Week 17. Here are a handful of takeaways from Green Bay's loss to the Steelers.
*All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
It Was an off Day for Matt Flynn
As good as quarterback Matt Flynn was in the second half of last week's game, he looked way off this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Flynn finished the game with 232 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. That interception was returned for a touchdown and put the Steelers up 10 points late in the third quarter.
Now, head coach Mike McCarthy did say it was his fault on that interception for not getting "enough reps in that footwork," via Paul Imig of Fox Sports, but it was still a pretty awful throw from Flynn.
However, where Flynn really struggled was with his accuracy and decision-making. Too many times he completely missed targets on easy throws.
Furthermore, Flynn overlooked a wide-open wide receiver in Jordy Nelson on the final play of the game. Had Flynn seen Nelson, this game would have gone into overtime, and the Packers would have had a chance to win.
The entire loss certainly doesn't fall on the shoulders of Flynn, but there is no doubt that he needed to play much, much better if the Packers were going to win this game.
Eddie Lacy Is a Man Among Boys
Running back Eddie Lacy continued his campaign for Offensive Rookie of the Year by going off for 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns. What's even more impressive about those stats is that Lacy missed a good chunk of the second half with an ankle injury.
Lacy ran over opponents, sped past them with his deceptive acceleration and leapt into the end zone. He also broke the record for most rushing yards by a Green Bay Packers rookie, as noted by Wes Hodkiewicz of The Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Simply put, Lacy has been far and away the most important player for Green Bay since starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down. He's also been the most talented player on the Packers roster over these past few weeks.
While this season may be over at the end of next week, the future looks extremely bright in Green Bay with Lacy leading the way on the ground.
Jarrett Boykin Deserves a New Contract This Offseason
The Green Bay Packers have always been known for having talented wide receivers, and Jarrett Boykin looks like the next man up. He finished Sunday's game with five receptions for 54 yards and the lone touchdown reception of the game.
It was that touchdown reception, which you can see in the picture above, that shows the potential that Boykin has. His hands have improved over the course of the season, and his playmaking abilities are absolutely legitimate.
Don't be surprised if the Packers give Boykin a new contract this offseason. The reality is that he absolutely deserves it.
The Packers Probably Shouldn't Bring Back B.J. Raji
With defensive end B.J. Raji up for a new contract this offseson, the Green Bay Packers would probably be wise to pass on bringing Raji back.
Raji's play has been on a steady decline this year. In fact, he's currently graded as the third-worst 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That's a far fall from making the Pro Bowl back during the 2011 season.
In this game, Raji failed to slow down the run or put any type of pressure on the quarterback. He also had a big penalty in the second half of the game that kept a drive alive for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It's possible that Raji takes a major paycut to stay in Green Bay for the next handful of seasons. However, the likely outcome is that the Packers won't re-sign Raji and will move on with their young core of defensive linemen for the 2014 season.
Has A.J. Hawk Finally Reached His Potential?
It may sound crazy to say that a 29-year-old player is finally reaching his potential, but that might be happening with linebacker A.J. Hawk this season. This has been, without a doubt, his greatest season since becoming a member of the Green Bay Packers.
Heading into Sunday's game, Hawk had 110 total tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble on the season. He had another six tackles and an interception in this game to add to his already impressive totals.
However, where Hawk has been the most impressive this season is in the little things he does. For example, Hawk did a great job on Sunday at taking away the cutback lanes from Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and limiting his gains on a number of carries.
Hawk has usually been considered a player who was drafted way too high, but this year, he might finally be living up to his potential.
It's Time for M.D. Jennings to Go for Good
The problem with safety M.D. Jennings is that he doesn't do anything well. It'd be one thing if Jennings could provide big plays in coverage or against the run, but the truth is that he's been horrid all around for the Packers this year.
Jennings struggled once again on Sunday by giving up big plays, missing tackles and looking like he has no place on Green Bay's roster moving forward. With second-year safety Sean Richardson providing solid play when he's on the field, it simply doesn't make sense to keep Jennings around any longer.
What the Packers need to do now is bench Jennings for the remainder of the season and think hard about releasing him once Week 17 finishes up.
Special Teams Kills the Packers
If you're wondering what unit has been the worst for the Green Bay Packers this year, it's been the special teams. And it isn't even close.
The Packers saved their worst special teams performance of the season for this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They gave up a a huge punt return to Antonio Brown and an even bigger kickoff return to Emmanuel Sanders.
However, the biggest mistakes came on a fake punt by the Steelers that ultimately led to a touchdown. The Packers also had a field goal blocked, but they were gifted the ball back by a crazy batting the ball rule.
Overall, the Packers special teams cost them the game this week, and major changes to the unit are needed before the start of next season.
Micah Hyde Gets a Game Ball
The only player to get an exception on special teams is cornerback Micah Hyde. For the first time this season, Hyde provided a major boost in the return game for the Green Bay Packers.
He finished Sunday's game with five kickoff returns and averaged 33 yards per return. His final return was his best of the season, as he dashed down the field for 70 yards to give the Packers offense a chance to tie the game in the final minute.
After a rough start to the season, Hyde looks like he could become an impact player for the Packers, both on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams. Look for this kid to improve greatly during the offseason and be a big part of the team in 2014.
Mental Errors Ultimately Cost the Packers This Game
There were so many big penalties in this matchup that it's almost unbelievable.
It started with defensive end B.J. Raji keeping a drive alive with illegal hands to the face. Then outside linebacker Nick Perry jumped offsides on what Tyler Dunne of The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel called "a killer."
That penalty led to a touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Finally, right tackle Don Barclay had a false start near the end zone that pushed the Packers back and took time off the clock.
The Packers didn't play their best game of the season this week, but had they not made so many mental mistakes, they would have likely came away with the win.