The Green Bay Packers were in prime position for an upset at Pittsburgh, leading by seven late in the third quarter when coach Mike McCarthy called for a 57-yard field goal try by Mason Crosby on fourth-and-18.
Heinz Field is a notoriously difficult venue for kicking, with winds off the city’s three rivers swirling in through the open end of the stadium. But McCarthy believed the Packers needed the points more than the field position. Crosby’s low attempt looked like a knuckleball and didn’t come close. The Steelers went 53 yards the other way in six plays for the tying touchdown.
The longest field goal made in an NFL game at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001 was 53 yards, a record matched later on Sunday night by Chris Boswell as time expired to give the Steelers a 31-28 victory. The valiant effort by the Packers in the best performance of backup quarterback Brett Hundley’s brief career ultimately went for naught, pushing McCarthy into the second-guessing spotlight for Week 12’s round of armchair quarterbacking.
“You don’t have time to check records,” McCarthy said after the game, when asked by a reporter whether he realized what was the longest made kick at the stadium before sending Crosby out to try. McCarthy added: “I obviously have a lot of faith and trust in Mason.”
The flow of the game, the time of possession statistics and the energy of the defense were all factors in McCarthy’s choice of field goal over punt.
“That’s the right decision,” he said steadfastly.
Packers fans were even more perturbed by the way the final 80 seconds of the game went. Hundley took a sack at his 12-yard line on the first snap of their final possession, prompting McCarthy to pull back and play for overtime.
But the next play call came in late, and rookie running back Jamaal Williams did not realize the Packers were then simply trying to drain the clock. He went out of bounds after a short reception, preceding an up-the-middle running play that allowed the Steelers to call a timeout prior to the punt and get the ball back with 17 seconds remaining. They needed only two plays to reach Boswell’s range for the winning kick.
“That’s the reality of what happened,” McCarthy said. “No excuses.”