PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers had the ball, 17 seconds and about 30 yards to go to avoid overtime against relentlessly resilient Green Bay.
Oh, and the Steelers had Antonio Brown. The Packers did not. And 17 seconds, 30ish yards provided entirely by Pittsburgh’s do-everything wide receiver and one 53-yard field goal from Chris Boswell later, the Steelers were dancing on the logo at midfield following a 31-28 escape on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh (9-2) won its sixth straight behind Brown, who finished with 10 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Yet the biggest grab was a 23-yard toe-tap along the sideline on the first snap of his team’s last-gasp drive that put the Steelers near the fringe of Boswell’s range.
At first, it looked as if Brown was out of bounds. Two officials conferred for more than 15 seconds before ruling Brown somehow managed to get both feet down. The call stood on replay.
A more conventional 14-yard reception on the next snap pushed the Steelers closer. Boswell’s career-long blast slipped inside the left upright to keep Pittsburgh tied with New England atop the AFC and keep Brown’s teammates searching for superlatives.
“It’s one thing to do it in practice on a Thursday,” guard David Decastro said. “To do it in that situation to get into field goal range? I just, I guess how can you not be surprised?”
“I knew right away I had it,” Brown said. “I got my hand on the ball. I knew it was a catch.”
One the Steelers needed to avoid perhaps another mystifying loss. Even though the Packers were missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Ty Montgomery and linebacker Clay Matthews, they pushed Pittsburgh to the limit.
Brett Hundley completed 17 of 26 for 245 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers (5-6) in his best start since taking over when Rodgers went on injured reserve with a broken collarbone last month. Jamaal William ran for 66 yards, including a 4-yard leap into the end zone with 2:02 that tied it at 28.
“I just want to give this team an opportunity to win,” Hundley said. “And I feel like we were really close.”
Hundley actually had a chance to pull off a Rodgers-like winning drive. But Green Bay went three-and-out after getting the ball with 1:20 to go. The Packers punted it back to Pittsburgh with 17 seconds left. Just enough time, it turns out, for Brown to do his thing and for Boswell to do his.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith didn’t approach Boswell before Boswell headed onto the field to kick into the tricky closed end of Heinz Field. That’s not what they do.
“I don’t tell them numbers, they don’t ask me numbers,” Boswell said. “If we need it, we need it and I kick it. That’s about it.”
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Le’Veon Bell ran for 95 yards and added another 88 yards receiving but also had a fumble that stalled a drive early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers outgained Green Bay 462-307 and had the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
Yet the Packers counterpunched repeatedly behind Hundley, who threw touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards then later guided Green Bay on a 12-play, 77-yard drive that was nearly enough to send the game to overtime.
“It was a close game and it came down to the wire and it hurts when you don’t finish it off,” Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams said. “I think this team can rally together and finish strong.”
“THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM”
The usually taciturn (at least when cameras are rolling) Tomlin raised eyebrows during a pregame interview in which he stressed he believes his team can win the Super Bowl and allowed there’s a part of him thinking about New England’s visit to Heinz Field on Dec. 17.
“We’ve got a good football team,” Tomlin said. “I’ve got a great deal of confidence in them. Everybody in America knows it’s a big game. We couldn’t deny it if we wanted to.”
The Packers were up 21-14 and had the ball in Pittsburgh territory in the third quarter when head coach Mike McCarthy sent Mason Crosby out to attempt a 57-yard field goal, a risky move at best let alone in perhaps the hardest stadium in the league to kick.
Crosby’s low knuckler was never close and the Steelers took advantage of the short field to even the score at 21 on the first of Brown’s two touchdown grabs.
“We needed points,” McCarthy said. “You look at the flow of the game … that’s the right decision.”
With Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster out with a hamstring problem, Martavis Bryant and had his most productive game since returning from a year-long drug suspension that cost him the entire 2016 season. Bryant finished with 99 total yards and his first touchdown since Week 2.
Packers: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday. Green Bay is 0-3 at home since Rogers was injured.
Steelers: At Cincinnati on Monday, Dec. 4. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals 29-14 on Oct. 22.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL