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Steelers vs. Packers: Takeaways from Pittsburgh's 38-31 Win over Green Bay

Curt PopejoyContributor IDecember 23, 2013

Steelers vs. Packers: Takeaways from Pittsburgh's 38-31 Win over Green Bay

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    It took all 60 minutes, but in the end it was the sheer will of the Pittsburgh Steelers that carried the day over the Green Bay Packers, 38-31. The win keeps the Steelers' playoff hopes alive for another week and gives the AFC plenty to play for next week as the regular season comes to an end.

    This win puts the Steelers at 7-8, which is remarkable after a 0-4 start to the season.

    The game consisted of a series of big plays and some just bizarre ones. It culminated in a final play that sealed the win for the Steelers that was made, fittingly, by the defense.

    Here are some quick takeaways from Sunday's win.

    All stats courtesy of NFL.com.

How About That Fake Punt?

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Trick plays are always fascinating. Whether they hit or miss, they are usually heavily scrutinized. They work, and the coach is a genius. They fail, and he's an idiot.

    The Steelers wanted to come out in the second half and seize some momentum. Unfortunately, their opening drive of the half stalled out at their own 44-yard line and they were forced to punt.

    Rather than give the ball back to a Packers offense that had gotten some traction, especially in the run game, head coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith had other plans.

    They chose to go to that veteran combo of punter Mat McBriar and tight end David Paulson on a fake that resulted in a 30-yard gain. Thirteen more yards were tacked on with a Packers penalty, and the Steelers were in business deep in Packers territory.

    Fortune favors the brave, and on Sunday fortune favored the Steelers.

Le'Veon Bell Tops the Century Mark

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    There is still a little room on the bandwagon if anyone is interested.

    Rookie Le'Veon Bell ran with a chip on his shoulder on Sunday. He was matched up with fellow rookie running back Eddie Lacy, his counterpart in the 2013 NFL draft.

    All Bell did was go out and have his first 100-yard rushing performance of the year, as well as score the game-winning touchdown.

    After Sunday's game, Bell has 770 yards rushing in 12 games, along with 44 receptions for 393 more yards.

    The biggest takeaway from Sunday's game was Bell's vision. Too often this season, Bell has chosen to pop run plays to the outside in hopes of getting the big run, rather than take the inside run.

    Against the Packers, Bell did a much better job of using those inside creases to gash their run defense.

    Over 100 rushing yards = @steelers Digest Player of the Week WATCH @L_Bell26 highlights here: http://t.co/5vh5QlQ4ia pic.twitter.com/1A1XQCxs07

    — Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 23, 2013

    This is a great tweet from the Steeler official Twitter account about the talented young player.

How About That Blocked Field Goal?

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    I will delve further into the brutal officiating the Steelers were forced to endure on Sunday. This play deserves special attention.

    This whole scenario started with the Steelers on offense at their own 2-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Le'Veon Bell fumbles and gives the Packers the football deep in Steelers territory. Points were given.

    However, three plays later, the Steelers defense has stiffened and the Packers have no choice but to attempt a 23-yard field goal. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon gets a mitt on the ball and the Steelers are set to take over on offense.

    However, that's when it all went wrong.

    Safety Ryan Clark recovers the blocked kick and attempts to lateral it. The lateral goes awry, and defensive end Ziggy Hood bats the football out of bounds.

    The Steelers draw a flag for illegal batting, which was absolutely the right call. The problem came with the call that the Steelers never had possession of the football prior to the illegal batting. Therefore the football would go back to Green Bay.

    It was a terrible call, an incorrect call and one that cost the Steelers an easy touchdown. The defense had already stepped up and forced the stop. Now the Steelers had to go back out and try to do it again. A dreadful position to put them in, and a huge error by the officials.

Defensive Adjustments Helped

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    For much of the game, the Steelers defense played off, looking to force Packers quarterback Matt Flynn into a mistake.

    This was clearly an error in judgment, because when the Steelers failed to pressure Flynn, he did a nice job delivering the football to the middle of the field.

    In the second half, the Steelers made some subtle adjustments in coverage, pushing the Packers offense to the outside, forcing Flynn to make throws to the outside hash marks. Clearly this is a weakness in Flynn's game.

    Pushing the routes to the outside also gave the Steelers' pass rush the time it needed to get inside and keep Flynn under duress, causing him to make some bad reads and stall out some drives.

Not a Good Day for the Zebras

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The officiating in Sunday's game was pretty sad. In fact, it sounds like across the league there was some poor officiating.

    Rather than belabor each call individually, we can summarize it all with the term "inconsistency."—whether it was a hold on a Steelers player when both players were locked up or a no-call on offensive pass interference when the Packers player clearly pushed off.

    This wasn't a conspiracy and the refs were not out to help the Packers win. It was simply a case of missed calls favoring the Packers significantly due to incompetence by the officials.

    A game this important should be decided by the players, never the officials, but there were several stretches on Sunday when it really didn't feel that way. It's never good to see, no matter which side you're on.

Let's Hear It for the Old Guys

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Every critic of the Steelers uses the same argument against them: The defense is too old to be competitive.

    And to some degree that criticism has been cogent. There have been plenty of plays this season where you could see the defender had lost a step.

    However, on Sunday it was another story.

    In a game that was defined by big plays, two of the biggest for the Steelers defense were made by the old men of the defense.

    The first was the strip of Flynn late in the game. Flynn got loose and was on the run, headed to a first down. However, seemingly out of nowhere, safety Troy Polamalu caught him from behind and stripped the football as he was going down.

    There was a loose ball on the ground, and veteran defensive end Brett Keisel was the guy to fall on it. This play gave the Steelers the ball back and allowed them to score what ended up being the game-winning touchdown.

    The other big play was of course the final play of the game. The Packers had capitalized on a long kickoff return and had the football in the red zone with one more play. Flynn delivered the football, but veteran cornerback Ike Taylor was there in coverage to seal the game for the Steelers.

Special Teams Were Not so Special

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    If there was an area of Sunday's game that fell woefully short, it was on kick coverage. There are few things more frustrating than giving up a long return.

    On Sunday, the Steelers' special teams had done a respectable job on returns, keeping the Packers in check and forcing them to take long drives down the field. Until that last drive.

    All things considered, it seemed to make more sense to just squib-kick it and not risk a long return. However, the Steelers chose to kick it deep, and rookie cornerback Micah Hyde made them pay.

    After a 70-yard return, the Packers were set up deep in Steelers territory. If not for a big play by the defense, then this special teams misstep would be the headline.

We're Talking About the Playoffs

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The big takeaway from this game is this team still has a shot at the playoffs. It is astonishing at this point, but it's a reality.

    Make no mistake, the permutations for the playoffs to happen are long. The Steelers must beat the Cleveland Browns next Sunday. Along with that, the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers must lose.

    A long shot no doubt. However, you saw on Sunday that if this Steelers team is going to miss the playoffs, it's not going to be because of something they do, but something out of their hands. This group played hard in all three phases and went into hostile territory and won a shootout when their best player did not have a great game.

    Tomlin appears deeply moved by his players’ emotion, energy. “I appreciate it. I do. They fought.”

    — Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) December 23, 2013

    As the tweet above from Dejan Jovacevic, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports columnist, showed, Tomlin was impressed by his team's effort.

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