Report card vs. Steelers

Veterans' miscues doom Packers

Mistakes admittedly made by quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Donald Driver, the injury-depleted offense's remaining two proven playmakers, were huge in keeping the Packers from possibly pulling off an upset victory. Favre failed to go to his hot read, tight end Donald Lee, when the Steelers defense sprung a second-quarter surprise in the red zone with a zone blitz. Consequently, Favre was popped in the pocket by cornerback Bryant McFadden, fumbled and watched helplessly as safety Troy Polamalu ran the other way 77 yards for a touchdown to keep Pittsburgh ahead. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and usually reliable Driver allowed a short pass to glance off his hands and into those of safety Tyrone Carter, setting up Duce Staley's clinching TD run.

Favre was only 20-of-35 passing for 214 yards with a lowly 63.3 rating and didn't have a touchdown pass for just the second time this season.

Favre said in his post-game assessment, "We didn't blow their socks off, but we were fairly effective at running the football." That's probably more than what the coaching staff expected after it turned to its fifth featured back of the season, Samkon Gado, to try to pick up a few yards against the Steelers' fifth-rated run defense. The un-drafted rookie, who's been with the team all of three weeks, was summoned after starter ReShard Lee fumbled on the team's third play from scrimmage. Gado showed an early burst with runs of 8 and 10 yards, but he had only two gains of more than 4 yards the last three quarters. He needed 26 carries to notch the team's single-game high of 62 yards, a paltry average of 2.4 yards per carry. Lee, filling in at the outset for injured Tony Fisher, never took another handoff after his early miscue.

The Steelers' predictable reliance on keeping the football on the ground with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out because of injury limited the opportunities the Packers had to disrupt a passing attack orchestrated by Charlie Batch. He threw the ball only 16 times, completing nine, for just 65 yards.

For the second time this season, cornerback Al Harris shadowed the opponent's marquee receiver on both sides the entire game, effectively subtracting Hines Ward from the Steelers' scaled-back game plan. Ward had only one reception, a gain of 12 yards late in the third quarter that was Batch's longest completion. Tight end Heath Miller was held to two catches for all of 11 yards. Linebacker Robert Thomas had an easy interception of a badly thrown downfield pass by Batch in the second quarter. The Steelers didn't convert a third down in seven opportunities, excluding a game-ending knee taken by Batch, and five of those were stops on called pass plays.

The Packers surrendered 154 yards on the ground, marking only the fourth time this season a team has amassed triple figures against the top-10 rushing defense. While a big chunk came on receiver Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard reverse on the game's opening play, a stout front line wore down in the fourth quarter and couldn't contain the previously rusty Staley.

Taking over for starter Willie Parker, who suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter, Staley pounded away for 76 yards in 15 carries for a gaudy per-rush average of 5.1 yards. He had eight carries for 45 yards in the final quarter, including a clinching 3-yard touchdown run on a missed tackle by linebacker Nick Barnett at the line of scrimmage. When Parker was in the game, the Packers held him to a measly 13 yards in five carries.

Ryan Longwell misfired on a field-goal attempt for the fourth time, already equaling his season total of last year, but this time he blamed himself, not holder B.J. Sander, for the 31-yard chip shot pushed wide right late in the first half that spoiled an 18-play, 9-minute, 30-second drive. Aside from that glaring miscue, the special-teams units were solid across the board.

Sander, in his primary role as punter, had his best performance of the year, kicking three times amid a swirling gust inside Lambeau Field and averaging 49 yards on the nose, equaling his season high. More impressive was his season-best net average of 44.7 yards, which kept the electric Randle El in check on all three of his returns (4.3 yards average). Packers punt returner Antonio Chatman had a career-long runback of 36 yards late in the game and averaged 16.5 yards in four returns.

No league peers are going to take pity on head coach Mike Sherman, but he and his staff on the offensive side had their hands tied even tighter with the indefinite loss of Tony Fisher to a broken rib sustained the previous week. ReShard Lee became the fourth starter at running back, but he lasted only two carries after fumbling, a sign that Sherman has zero tolerance for mistakes in a season filled with them.

Gado carried the load admirably the rest of the way and will make the start Sunday at Atlanta, but the Packers will have to endure growing pains with the un-drafted rookie who needs some seasoning.

Penalties were in abundance yet again, particularly senseless ones like back-to-back false starts in the red zone that set up Favre's costly fumble and subsequent TD return by Troy Polamalu. The repeated transgressions, game after game eight weeks in, don't reflect well on the coaching staff. Sherman, though, accepted culpability for the pivotal play by Polamalu, saying in hindsight he shouldn't have exposed Favre to the ensuing blitz on third down with an empty backfield.

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