The Green Bay Packers were in prime position for an upset at Pittsburgh, leading by seven late in the third quarter when coach Mike McCarthy called for a 57-yard field goal try by Mason Crosby on fourth-and-18.
Heinz Field is a notoriously difficult venue for kicking, with winds off the city's three rivers swirling in through the open end of the stadium. But McCarthy believed the Packers needed the points more than the field position. Crosby's low attempt looked like a knuckleball and didn't come close. The Steelers went 53 yards the other way in six plays for the tying touchdown.
The longest field goal made in an NFL game at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001 was 53 yards, a record matched later on Sunday night by Chris Boswell as time expired to give the Steelers a 31-28 victory . The valiant effort by the Packers in the best performance of backup quarterback Brett Hundley's brief career ultimately went for naught, pushing McCarthy into the second-guessing spotlight for Week 12's round of armchair quarterbacking.
"You don't have time to check records," McCarthy said after the game, when asked by a reporter whether he realized what was the longest made kick at the stadium before sending Crosby out to try. McCarthy added: "I obviously have a lot of faith and trust in Mason."
The flow of the game, the time of possession statistics and the energy of the defense were all factors in McCarthy's choice of field goal over punt.
"That's the right decision," he said steadfastly.
Packers fans were even more perturbed by the way the final 80 seconds of the game went. Hundley took a sack at his 12-yard line on the first snap of their final possession, prompting McCarthy to pull back and play for overtime.
But the next play call came in late, and rookie running back Jamaal Williams did not realize the Packers were then simply trying to drain the clock. He went out of bounds after a short reception, preceding an up-the-middle running play that allowed the Steelers to call a timeout prior to the punt and get the ball back with 17 seconds remaining. They needed only two plays to reach Boswell's range for the winning kick.
"That's the reality of what happened," McCarthy said. "No excuses."
Here are other calls around the league that fell under heavy scrutiny:
SO WHAT'S THE CATCH?
The New York Jets were trailing by one point at home on Sunday early in the fourth quarter against Carolina when tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appeared to complete a 1-yard touchdown catch from Josh McCown.
The call on the field, however, was reversed after the required replay review because the officials declared that Seferian-Jenkins did not maintain possession of the slightly moving ball as he stretched out in the back of the end zone for the reception and fell out of bounds.
"I don't like this," NBC analyst Tony Dungy said. "We're micromanaging these catches."
Seferian-Jenkins had a touchdown reversed earlier in the season against New England on an even more obscure ruling that he fumbled out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
"I have to be a better receiver and make that catch," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Simple as that."
The Panthers pulled out a 35-27 victory , leaving Jets coach Todd Bowles the subject of criticism, too. The overturned call on second down Seferian-Jenkins was one of three straight incompletions McCown threw from the 1-yard line, prompting a short field goal that gave the Jets a short-lived lead. Matt Forte was wide open on third down.
"Hindsight is 20-20. We had a touchdown if we held onto the football," Bowles said, adding: "none of the plays worked, so it really doesn't matter."
WHO'S THE STARTER?
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer continued his practice of announcing Case Keenum as the quarterback one week at a time, rather than declare him the starter indefinitely over Teddy Bridgewater with the Vikings on a seven-game winning streak . Even Keenum said recently he's fine with the arrangement, citing the old "not-broke-don't-fix-it" adage.
The Buffalo Bills went back to Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and won at Kansas City after an ill-fated first half by rookie Nathan Peterman in a loss to the San Diego Chargers the week before. The freefalling Chiefs, meanwhile, are sticking for now with suddenly struggling Alex Smith despite the presence of first-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes on the sideline.
Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph gave quarterback Paxton Lynch his first start on Sunday against Oakland, then proceeded to watch him take four sacks and pass for just 41 yards on 14 attempts with one interception before hurting his ankle in the third quarter. Trevor Siemian, who started the first eight games before giving way to Brock Osweiler for three starts, threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a 21-14 loss to the Raiders .
Siemian will take over as the starter again -- for now.