The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

December 21, 2013

Postseason on line for Steelers, Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tradition-rich franchises. Big-name quarterbacks. Super Bowl rematch.

Doesn’t get much more interesting in the NFL than the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers in December at frigid Lambeau Field.

Throw in the Packers’ late push for the playoffs, and this matchup has the makings of must-see viewing this afternoon.

“Man, if you asked me a couple weeks ago if we’d be in this spot, I would have told you, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” Packers guard T.J. Lang said. “But hey, this is what football is about. Comes down to the last couple games, and we’ve put ourselves in position to have a chance.”

Two straight come-from-behind victories have helped ease the sting of playing without quarterback Aaron Rodgers (broken left collarbone). The Packers (7-6-1) are back in control of their playoff destiny – wins today over the Steelers and next week over the Bears get them the NFC North title.

The Steelers (6-8) remain on the fringes of the playoff race and need a lot of help.

Miami is one of three teams ahead of them in the chase for the second AFC wild card. The Dolphins play the Bills early today, so it’s possible the Steelers may officially be out of the postseason picture by the time they kick off in Green Bay later in the day.

“I don’t know what scenario it takes for us to get in,” tight end Heath Miller said. “I just know we’re going to put in all the effort we can into winning the game this weekend.”

Five things to watch ahead of the teams’ first meeting since the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl in 2011:

QB QUESTION: Backup Matt Flynn was preparing to make his fourth straight start in place of the injured Rodgers. The 2011 NFL MVP has been  inching closer to coming back, but needed medical clearance.

After an 0-4-1 stretch without Rodgers, the Packers have won two straight with Flynn. He’s growing more comfortable each week and helping Green Bay play better late in games, which had been a season-long problem.

Since Week 12, Flynn has a 128.3 passer rating in fourth quarters, completing 28 of 39 throws for 301 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

ROOKIE RBs: Packers running back Eddie Lacy leads the league in rushing since Oct. 1 with 977 yards. He could have been taking those handoffs from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh considered taking the Alabama rookie in the draft, but instead went with Michigan State product Le’Veon Bell because of his versatility.

Bell has 646 yards on 198 carries on the season, one carry short of the team rookie record. With 43 catches, he’s nine receptions short of the team mark for most catches for a running back in a season.

“There’s no right or wrong, globally speaking,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s about what’s right for you and Le’Veon Bell was right for us.”

RIDING HIGH: The Packers set a franchise record by rebounding from a 23-point halftime deficit last week to beat Dallas, an emotional high in the team’s injury-filled, roller coaster of a season.

Coach Mike McCarthy planned to address his team about guarding against a letdown, though it’s hard to imagine that might happen with the playoffs within sight.

“I’m sure we’re not going to have any problems focusing on what we still have ahead of us,” Lacy said.

SUPER REMATCH: The Packers and the Steelers represent two of the league’s model franchises, with stable ownerships and loyal, national fan bases. Together, they’ve combined for 19 world championships, including the NFL-best 13 for the Packers. Pittsburgh’s six titles are the most by any AFC team.

But Super Bowl losses still sting.

“When you’re that close and you come up short, that’s something you never forget,” Miller said.

TRIPLE SIXES: Two weeks, two straight ominous-sounding stat lines for Packers tight end Andrew Quarless: six catches, 66 yards.

“Everybody had jokes about it, but it’s something I prayed on, and I told ‘em next time, hopefully I get six for 100,” Quarless said.

Perhaps more importantly for the Packers’ offense is that Quarless has caught touchdowns in two straight games. Tight end is a factor for the first time since Jermichael Finley (neck) got hurt in Week 7.

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