It's a neat capsule: as the Steelers' pass rush returns, so do they. But the Packers did drive 84 yards on them at the end, bringing the score to the final 22-20 with 39 seconds left. And it was two high snaps from Green Bay's backup center, Buddy Aydelette, that aborted two punts, creating a safety and setting up a short touchdown. And the game itself was a struggle against the kind of team the Steelers used to devour. Pittsburgh's offense, which had averaged 25 points a game during the three losses, was a strange creature indeed.
Bradshaw, the middle joint on his right thumb still swollen and aching from a collision with a helmet two games ago, his right elbow banged up from a fall in the second quarter, his left side alternately numb and aching from a clothesline shot he took on a scramble, admitted he "couldn't throw at all." He went 12-for-28 with two short touchdown passes—one to Swann, the other to Rocky Bleier—and two interceptions. Half the time Bradshaw was side-arming the ball.
"I probably should have taken myself out of the game," he said. "I had no control of the football. If we'd have fallen behind, I would have come out. I saw the things I wanted to take advantage of, but I just couldn't throw the ball. It's like going fishing, seeing a bed of bream down there and not having a hook."
"Was it your thumb?" someone asked.
"My thumb? God, I just hurt all over," he said. "I'm tired and sore."
Bradshaw's only long completion came in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers were protecting a 15-14 lead; it was a 38-yarder to Theo Bell on a post pattern over the middle, and it was a mistake. The Steelers had three wide receivers in the game, and all three ran inside routes.
"Theo thought he heard an audible, but it really wasn't," said Swann, who was making his first start since fracturing a rib five weeks ago. "Jim Smith and I ran the proper routes inside. Theo was supposed to go outside, but he didn't. We got our longest gain of the day on it. Emotionally, Theo heard the audible. Intellectually, it wasn't there. Maybe that tells you something about the way our luck was going today."
When it came down to the drive that gave Pittsburgh a 22-14 fourth-quarter lead and put the game away, the Steelers turned to an old friend, someone who had almost been a forgotten man—Bleier. They ran him four straight times for 38 yards—pitch right, pitch left, pitch right again, trap up the middle—and then Bradshaw hit him for a four-yard TD after a desperation scramble. The Rocky Bleier Memorial Drive.
"We found something that worked and we hammered away at it," Bleier said. "We reverted to the offense of the past, when we used to just repeat things that worked. The way their defense was set up, we knew that pitch would go, but we just hadn't used it that much. Maybe that's been our problem, both offensively and defensively. Too much finesse, second guessing, trying to fool people. That's really not our game."
O.K., so Pittsburgh reverted to Steeler football. But the Steelers beat a team that lost two linebackers during the afternoon, and Green Bay's linebacking corps was already minus one starter. Three other Green Bay starters went down in the first half, and the Packers came into the game with 16 players on injured reserve. Yet they hung in and made things tough.