Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen (28) makes a leaping interception in front of Green Bay Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin in the third quarter Sunday at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
For all the progress Matt Flynn has made since being snatched off the street and thrown into the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback role, his inexperience came back to bite him on two crucial second-half plays Sunday.
The two plays, both turnovers, led to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final two touchdowns in their 38-31 victory. The first was the result of confusion on a play he hadn’t run much, and the second was caused by being too aggressive at a time when ball security was at a premium.
With 1 minute, 55 seconds to play in the third quarter, the Packers trailed 24-21 and Micah Hyde’s 39-yard kickoff return gave them their best field position to that point at their 40.
But on the first play, tight end Andrew Quarless ran into Flynn as he was throwing, causing the ball to go astray and into the hands of Pittsburgh cornerback Cortez Allen, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 Steelers lead.
Quarless was lined up in the backfield and was run-blocking up the middle when he and Flynn collided.
Both Flynn and coach Mike McCarthy took blame for the confusion.
“It’s probably more my fault,” McCarthy said. “That particular play, we hadn’t run that particular backside-blocking scheme until that point in the game. I had given Matt a reminder, we were in the run-pass selection, the safety came down late.
“That’s probably a little bit of an example of a guy not having a lot of reps in that particular footwork, and it cost us. Andrew’s doing his job. He’s blocking the backside linebacker. Frankly, you can put that on me.”
Flynn saw Pittsburgh’s defense taking away the run and was trying to hit Jarrett Boykin on a quick out to the right.
“It was what we call a run-solution throw,” he said, “and the safety was down to our run side, so I was taking the easy one-on-one matchup to the receiver. I’ve got to do a better job of understanding where my tight end has to fill, according to where his linebacker is, and get out of his way.
“I was coming up, and he hit me on my left side, turned me and I pulled the ball out. It was one of those unfortunate plays, and I definitely wish I could take that one back.”
Quarless was more succinct. “It was a run with a pass option,” he said three times in the postgame locker room. “So, it was just a messed-up play.”
But the Packers recovered from that debacle to tie the game at 31 on a John Kuhn 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. They were in position to win the game after forcing the Steelers to punt and taking over at their 8-yard line with 3 minutes left.
But on third-and-8 following the 2-minute warning, one of the two worst things that could happen, happened: Flynn scrambled under pressure and got 7 of the 8 yards, but fumbled after being hit by Troy Polamalu. Pittsburgh’s Brett Keisel recovered at Green Bay’s 17-yard line with 1:51 left.
“At the time, it was third down, I took off running and knew I had to go for the first down,” Flynn said. “I couldn’t slide or anything like that. My plan was to try to split those guys and dive for it as hard as I could.
“Troy made a good play and got me wrapped around. I couldn’t do that. He got the ball. I’ve got to protect the ball. It’s probably not my thing to go running and try to split defenders and things like that, but I’ve got to do a better job under the situation.
“But I also knew the situation was that I was trying to win the game and I was trying to get the first down and at that time wasn’t really thinking about ball security. I was thinking about trying to dive for the first down.”
Twenty-six seconds later, the Steelers scored on a Le’Veon Bell 1-yard run for a 38-31 lead.
McCarthy said he had no problem with Flynn’s aggressiveness on the play.
“I’m fine with Matt’s decision,” he said. “I was standing right there. I saw what he saw. He thought he was going to be able to split them and get the first down. He’s a good athlete, he’s a good runner, he’s competing. I have no problem with what he attempted there.”
After slow starts plagued the Packers in their three previous games, Flynn had a standout first half, and Green Bay led 14-10 at halftime. Playing in his fifth game since taking over for Scott Tolzien midway through the 11th game of the season, Flynn completed 14 of 19 first-half passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.
But the second half was treacherous for Flynn, who was 7-of-20 for 95 yards and the interception after halftime.
“They did a nice job defensively of making adjustments at halftime,” Flynn said of the Steelers. “The ball got slicker out there. (I) wish it would have been about 5 degrees colder. It was getting a little slick, but I give their defense credit. They played well, and it was a hell of a fight.”
— email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.