Running backs shine early, defense shines late as Steelers slip past Green Bay with 23-19 victory

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Najee Harris stopped paying attention to the circumstances long ago. Maybe because they almost never change for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's going to get tight. It's going to get late. And Pittsburgh is going to somehow find a way.

Even when the Steelers are outgained — which is always, at least in 2023. Even when they're out played — which is frequently. Even when the only place they regularly look like a team in playoff contention is the standings — which is essentially the story of the first half of a season that is somehow both chaotic and utterly predictable at the same time.

Maybe that's why Harris more or less shrugged after a 23-19 win over Green Bay on Sunday that had all the hallmarks of so many victories that have come before. A little offense. A couple of timely turnovers, and just enough of everything else to survive.

“I'm just so used to (close games), I don't even realize it,” Harris said after running for 82 yards and a touchdown. “That's just how we are.”

Seemingly every single week. The Steelers (6-3) have ripped off nine straight wins in one-score games dating to last season. All six of their wins so far in 2023 have come by eight points or less, a trend that defies the logic of the “every game is a coin flip” NFL.

The odds figure to even out at some point. They're just not in Pittsburgh. Not yet anyway.

“It just shows in those pressure moments, we come up making the big plays,” outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said.

The patched together Steelers secondary provided two of them late. Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson tipped Jordan Love's pass into the hands of safety Keanu Neal in the end zone with 3:20 to go to end one threat. Safety Damontae Kazee later stepped in front of Love's last-second heave at the goal line on the final play as the Steelers head into a pivotal two-game road trip to AFC North rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati with momentum.

Jaylen Warren, introduced as a co-starter with Harris for the first time, ran for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on a day the two running backs combined for 206 of Pittsburgh’s 324 total yards. Chris Boswell kicked three field goals — including two in the 16 minutes after Green Bay took a slim 19-17 lead — to help the Steelers improve to 3-1 since their bye week.

“All that matters is we keep winning games,” center Mason Cole said. “We don’t care how we get them as long as we get them.”

Love completed 21 of 40 for 289 yards and two touchdowns for Green Bay, but the Packers (3-6) were unable to back up last week's victory over the Los Angeles Rams despite outgaining the Steelers by 75 yards.

Then again, that doesn’t mean much when playing Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been outgained in every game this season, and it somehow hasn’t stopped them from staying in the thick of the playoff race as Thanksgiving approaches.

Green Bay, meanwhile, has dropped 5 of 6 since a 2-1 start.

“You see how close we are, a play here or a play there,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said. “I feel like we just keep pushing at it. If we keep putting in the work, it’ll go in our favor.”

If Green Bay wants to find a team to emulate, it could do worse than Pittsburgh. The Steelers don't win games so much as they don't beat themselves. Wearing the vintage block numbers from the franchise’s iconic 1970s teams, Pittsburgh didn't turn the ball over for the third time in four games and let the team on the other side of the field make the costly mistakes when it mattered.

It may not always look pretty. The Steelers are aware of this. They also don't particularly care. They're winning games while not always playing winning football. Yet they're also not playing losing football. It may not be sustainable long term. But for now, it's working.

“We should just be better in certain ways so that you don't have to have such a heart attack at the end of the game,” Highsmith said. “But whenever we're in those ‘got to have it’ moments, we're capitalizing."


The Steelers scored on each of their first three drives while taking a 17-7 lead. At times, the offense looked as fluid as it has in a long time in the second game since embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada moved from the coach's box to the sideline in an effort find what head coach Mike Tomlin has called a new “perspective.”

Don't expect Canada to move anytime soon. Harris said Canada surprised him by giving him a hug after Harris' 4-yard first-quarter touchdown run and spent time in between series going to each position group to discuss what was and wasn't working.


Steelers: LB Kwon Alexander exited in the first quarter with what Tomlin called a serious leg injury and did not return. Alexander is the second Pittsburgh inside linebacker to potentially be lost for the season in consecutive weeks. Cole Holcomb went on injured reserve with a knee injury after getting hurt in a win over Tennessee.


Packers: Welcome the Los Angeles Chargers to Lambeau Field next Sunday.

Steelers: Visit the Browns next Sunday. Pittsburgh won the first meeting with Cleveland 26-22 on Sept. 18.