Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback CortezAllen picks off a Matt Flynn pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Kyle Bursaw/Press-Gazette Media
Since 1954, seasons in which the Packers averaged better than 6.25 yards per play in the third quarter.
Matt Flynn had Green Bay’s only fumble, a costly gaffe the Steelers converted into a game-winning touchdown.
But it was earlier, in the 15 minutes following halftime, that the Packers really lost the handle on the game.
Le’Veon Bell scored from a yard out with 1 minute, 28 seconds to go as Pittsburgh stunned Green Bay 38-31 at snowy Lambeau Field. The loss dropped the Packers to 7-7-1 and could have ended their playoff hopes — if the Bears would have defeated the Eagles later that night.
Flynn fumbled scrambling on third down. He was hit by safety Troy Polamalu, and defensive end Brett Keisel recovered at the Green Bay 17-yard line.
Bell scored five plays later with an assist from Nick Perry. The Packers linebacker handed the Steelers a first down at the 5 when he encroached on what would have been a 28-yard field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham.
Even a 70-yard kickoff return by Micah Hyde following the Steelers’ last score couldn’t save the Packers. Flynn failed to connect with Jarrett Boykin from the Pittsburgh 6 as time expired.
That the game was still up for grabs was a tribute to Green Bay. It rallied from a 10-point deficit, but the mess that was the third quarter proved too much to overcome.
Of the four quarters, the third has been the most productive for the Packers this season. It remains so even after the loss to the Steelers.
Through 14 games the third quarter stood out. The 1,601 yards Green Bay gained there were 222 better than their next best quarter, the fourth (1,379).
Furthermore, the 99 points tallied there were better than either the first (71), second (85) or fourth (95) quarters.
Its average per play (7.62) was unreal. Since 1954, the team never had posted such an average, coming closest in 2011 (7.49).
Eddie Lacy, James Starks and others ripped off 665 yards on 89 rushes (7.47). Flynn, Aaron Rodgers, Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien averaged 7.74 yards on 121 pass plays.
This was the quarter of season longs. Seven of the nine Packers who have carried the ball — MD Jennings (6), Rodgers (18), Tolzien (19), James Starks (34), Johnathan Franklin (51), Lacy (60) and Randall Cobb (67) — had their longest gain in the third quarter.
The list for receivers is shorter. Only Myles White (15), Andrew Quarless (22) and James Jones (83) turned in season bests.
The Packers gained more than 125 yards eight times in third quarters. They amassed a season-high 189 yards in beating the Lions 22-9 in Week 5.
Against the Steelers, Green Bay managed 42 yards on 21 plays. It was their second worst showing behind the 14 they got in falling to Detroit 40-10 on Thanksgiving.
Flynn had a particularly rough time. He completed 2 of 13 passes for 13 yards. One was tipped by defensive end Cameron Heyward and fell incomplete. One was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by cornerback Cortez Allen, a score that put Pittsburgh up 31-21.
Mason Crosby had a field goal attempt blocked, but Green Bay retained possession after Ziggy Hood was flagged for illegally batting the ball forward. Lacy limped from the field after getting tackled on a 3-yard gain and did not return.
The defense provided two highlights. Tramon Williams recovered a fumble by Bell, and A.J. Hawk intercepted Ben Roethlisberger on the final play of the period.
Even with Lacy converting the first takeaway into a TD, the Packers were outscored 21-7 in the quarter. It was just the second time Green Bay gave up three touchdowns in the third quarter under coach Mike McCarthy, and just as they did against the Saints in 2008, they came away with a loss.