PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger used the phrase “Hall of Famer.” So did Ramon Foster.
Antonio Brown is flattered by the lengths his Pittsburgh Steeler teammates go to try and describe what their remarkable wide receiver does on a weekly basis. And while there’s little doubt the supremely confident Brown has belief in his own abilities, he’s not quite ready to get into the “GOAT” talk or anything, not even after the latest in an increasingly long line of signature performances pushed the Steelers to a 31-28 victory over Green Bay on Sunday night.
“Tremendous when guys talk about me in that light,” Brown said after catching 10 passes for 169 yards and two scores. “I’ve got a long way to go. Jerry Rice played the game 20 years, did some outstanding things. Long way to go, got a lot of football left.”
And plenty of more shows to put on.
Brown hauled in a 1-yard rainbow from Roethlisberger in the third quarter to tie the game, sprinted 33 yards down the sideline to put the Steelers in front in the fourth quarter and made a 23-yard toe-drag masterpiece to help set up Chris Boswell’s 53-yard field goal on the final snap.
“I guess with all due respect I’m not surprised or amazed,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s what he does. He’s just special.”
The Steelers (9-2) won their sixth straight when Boswell’s drive into the closed end of Heinz Field stayed inside the left upright. Pittsburgh kept pace with New England in the race for the best record in the AFC and inched closer to a fourth straight playoff berth by avoiding another meltdown against a seemingly overmatched opponent.
The Packers (5-6) were missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Ty Montgomery and linebacker Clay Matthews and still took the AFC North leaders to the last snap. Brett Hundley threw for 242 yards and three long touchdowns in easily his best game since taking over after Rodgers went down last month against Minnesota.
“It gave us confidence,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We have been putting in the work. Last week was kind of a fluke of a game (a 23-0 loss to Baltimore). I think it’s great to come in here and make some plays. We just have to grind at it and make some more.”
Some takeaways from Pittsburgh’s eighth consecutive win on Sunday night.
The Steelers miss cornerback Joe Haden. Since the veteran left with a fractured leg in the first half of a victory over Indianapolis two weeks ago, the secondary has suddenly become susceptible to big plays. Pittsburgh has given up five touchdown passes of 50 yards or more in each of the last three weeks, including a 54-yard catch and run by Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams and a 55-yarder to Davonte Adams.
“Everybody that knows us knows that we’re an aggressive group,” cornerback Coty Sensabaugh said. “We’re going to pride ourselves on going to get the ball and we’re going to keep doing that. Sometimes it’s not going to work out that way but we’ve got to stay aggressive. We can’t sit back and let people just punch us.”
A week after tossing three picks in a miserable loss to the Ravens, Hundley took a massive step forward. In addition to his three touchdown passes, Hundley also guided the Packers on a 12-play, 77-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a 4-yard dive by Williams that tied the game.
“I thought he did a really good job of running the offense,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was just recognition of growing as a play caller and quarterback. … It was just the growth pattern of a quarterback in this league. I thought he took a huge step.”
The game’s momentum turned midway through the third quarter. The Packers were up a touchdown and had the ball in Pittsburgh territory when McCarthy opted to send Mason Crosby out to attempt a 57-yard field goal, which would have been the longest ever made at notoriously breezy Heinz Field.
Crosby’s drive wasn’t really close . Instead of taking over deep in their own territory after a punt, the Steelers instead got the ball near midfield and quickly tied the score. Still, McCarthy believes he made the right call.
“You have 40 seconds on the clock, you don’t have time to check records,” he said. “You go off of your pregame. We had a mark for going north and going south. That was right on the fringe. I obviously have a lot of faith in Mason.”
Packers: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday as Green Bay searches for its first home victory since Rodgers was injured.
Steelers: At Cincinnati on Monday, Dec. 4. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals 29-14 on Oct. 22.