Could Packers' valiant effort in loss to Steelers lead to better days?

PITTSBURGH -- The last time the Green Bay Packers were a two-touchdown underdog, they were going to New England in 2010 without a concussed Aaron Rodgers.

Coach Mike McCarthy refused to believe it, saying at the time that they were “nobody’s underdogs.”

And he was nearly spot on. Behind Matt Flynn, the Packers put up a much stronger fight than anyone thought and lost 31-27. A week later, Rodgers returned to an 8-6 football team, the Packers won their last two regular-season games and went on to win the Super Bowl as a wild-card team.

There were no such proclamations from McCarthy before Sunday night’s game at Pittsburgh, where the Steelers were 14-point favorites, yet the result was similar to that night in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

On the game’s final play, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell won it, 31-28, with a 53-yard field goal.

The problem is, Rodgers isn’t coming back next week.

Or the week after.

Even though Rodgers went through a throwing workout before the game at Heinz Field -- whipping at least one pass more than 50 yards in the air -- he’s stuck on injured reserve for at least two more weeks. He could return to practice this coming week but can’t play this coming Sunday against Tampa Bay or the following week at Cleveland.

Even if the Packers (5-6) can win the next two, they might be too far out of the playoff picture when Rodgers is eligible to return in Week 15 at Carolina.

"I think everything’s wait and see," said receiver Jordy Nelson, one of the few Packers' players who was around in 2010. "I think we did our job for the most part today. We made some plays, need to make some more. Didn’t come out with the win. It will be all about coming in Wednesday and getting back to work. We can’t take the foot off the pedal at all with the situation we’re in."

The Packers stayed in this game with a seemingly simple formula, yet one that had been hard to come by since Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6. McCarthy called a tough-to-defend combination of screen passes and deep balls for Brett Hundley, stayed committed to running back Jamaal Williams (21 carries for 66 yards with a rushing and receiving touchdown) and finally got some takeaways from his defense -- three of them to be exact.

Considering the quality of the opponent, it was Hundley’s best showing to date with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 134.3 passer rating.

The only thing the Packers could be faulted for was the decision to try a 57-yard field goal midway through the third quarter while clinging to a 21-14 lead. It sailed away wide left, giving the Steelers favorable field position, which they turned into Ben Roethlisberger’s 1-yard fade to Antonio Brown over Kevin King for a tying touchdown.

Had McCarthy elected to punt, perhaps the Packers could have flipped the field position in their favor. Instead, the Steelers took over at Packers’ 47-yard line to set up an easy scoring drive.

"We had a mark for going north or going south; that was right on the fringe," McCarthy said of the field goal try. "I obviously have a lot of faith and trust in Mason.

"We knew we needed points. You look at the flow of the game, you look at time of possession. Those are the things you’re thinking about all during the course of the game. How long has your defense been on the field? That’s the right decision."

At that point Hundley, who had already thrown three touchdown passes -- one more than he had in his entire career entering Sunday night’s game -- reverted to more of the quarterback he was the week before, when the Packers were shut out by the Ravens at Lambeau Field. Following the missed field goal, Hundley and the offense went three-and-out on the next two possessions.

Still, Hundley went score for score with Roethlisberger, tying the game with 2:02 left thanks to a clutch drive until Antonio Brown burned the Packers with a sideline catch akin to the one former Packers tight end Jared Cook made in Dallas last year in the playoffs to set up the game-winning field goal.