GREEN BAY, Wis. -

Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field, a loss that could have ended their season had the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears not been so cooperative:

Thumbs up:  In a game where the special teams nearly ruined the day, Micah Hyde nearly saved it. The Packers’ fundamentally inept kickoff return unit, which entered the day as the worst in the 32-team NFL, saw the rookie cornerback deliver the longest return of the season – three times. His 33-yard return on the opening kickoff was the Packers’ longest of the year. Then his 39-yard return after the Steelers took a 24-21 lead with 1 minute 55 seconds left in the third quarter became the longest. And then, with the Packers down 38-31 and needing a miracle, Hyde delivered a 70-yard kickoff return that gave the Packers the ball at the Pittsburgh 31-yard line with 1:25 left.

Hyde, who injured his shoulder on the play, almost singlehandedly made up for a special teams group that got a punt blocked (and were fortunate that they retained possession after it), gave up a pair of big returns, allowed a fake punt to go for 30 yards (with a 15-yard Jake Stoneburner penalty added on) that led to a touchdown and watched second-year linebacker Nick Perry commit a stunningly foolish offsides penalty in the decisive closing moments.

“Obviously it’s tough,” Hyde said. “We felt like if we could win this game. I don’t think we looked past this game by any means. But we felt like we had this one, and we let it slip away. All you can ask is we go out next week and handle our business and hope that things play its course.”

Thumbs down: Perry’s penalty was absolutely inexcusable and may very well have cost the Packers the game. After quarterback Matt Flynn’s stunning fumble with 1:51 to play gave the Steelers the ball at the Packers’ 17-yard line and the game tied, 31-31, the defense rose to the occasion and – with the help of a second-down pass play that saved them a timeout – got the stop they needed. On fourth-and-3 from the Packers’ 10-yard line with 1:35 left, the Packers had one timeout. Even if Shaun Steelers kicker Suisham makes the 28-yard field goal, the Packers offense would have had roughly 90 seconds and a timeout to work with to get either a game-tying field goal to force overtime or the game-winning touchdown.

Instead, Perry inexplicably jumped, was called for encroachment, giving the Steelers the first down. That forced the Packers to burn their final timeout and let the Steelers score in hopes of getting the ball back and having their offense force OT with a touchdown.

“It’s an undisciplined play. I jumped, and they capitalized on the play. You know, I’ve got nothing. It’s a bum play,” Perry said. “It happened.”

Of course, Perry’s mistake wasn’t the only undisciplined play that cost hurt the Packers, as right guard T.J. Lang committed a false start penalty in the final seconds on offense that hurt them, too. (Referee Carl Cheffers erroneously cited right tackle Don Barclay on the play.)

But thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory over the Bears Sunday night, Perry’s mistake wasn’t devastating.

“We can only control what we can control, and we didn’t get the job done today,” a dejected Perry said. “So now everything else is in everybody else’s hands.”

Perry said he saw Steelers long-snapper Greg Warren move the ball, which was why he jumped, but it was hard to see any movement on a replay of the play.

Player of the game:  Where in the world would the Packers be without Eddie Lacy? Well, they better hope they don’t have to find out in next Sunday’s NFC North Championship Game, since Lacy re-injured the sprained right ankle that has been troubling him ever since he initially hurt it at the end of the first half against Atlanta on Dec. 8. Lacy finished the day with 15 carries for 84 yards (5.6-yard average) and set the franchise record for rushing yards in a season by a rookie, breaking John Brockington’s 1971 record. He had a pair of touchdown runs to boot, giving him 10 rushing TDs on the year. But now the Packers must hope that Lacy can recover from his injury, which occurred with 1:08 to play in the game.

“[I] just get ready for next week. We’ve got a game left, so I guess try to put this one behind us and finish the season off,” Lacy said. “I’m definitely going to do everything I can do to get it feeling as good as I possibly can, so I can go out and be with my team next week.”

Play of the day:  If A.J. Hawk has made a better play in his eight-year NFL career, it does not spring immediately to mind. On the final play of the third quarter, with the Packers trailing 31-21, Hawk leaped high into the air, got his right hand on Ben Roethlisberger’s pass and hauled it in for an interception. Even though the Packers only got a field goal off the turnover, it altered the tide of the game completely.

At the time, the Steelers had taken a 10-point lead on Cortez Allen’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, and on the ensuing possession, the Packers offense had gone three-and-out.

Then, on a pass that was intended for tight end Heath Miller, Hawk, who hadn’t intercepted a pass since Dec. 26, 2010 against the New York Giants, made the play.

“I’m just glad to finally get one. Could’ve used a few more of those,” Hawk said. “Turnovers, I always say, are the biggest thing to get the crowd going, to get the momentum shifted your way, and that time was a good time to do that.”

Inside the game:  The Packers cannot put the loss on the officiating – especially after Cheffers’ crew appeared to blow the call on the blocked field goal – but the final 10 seconds were a point of contention afterward. On second-and-goal from the Steelers’ 1-yard line with 22 seconds left, the Packers were flagged for a false start. Cheffers announced the penalty as being on Barclay, but on replay it was clearly on Lang. (Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, though, took the blame for the penalty for not snapping the ball on time.)

By the time the whistle blew the play dead, the Lambeau Field clock showed 20 seconds, and because the penalty came inside the 2-minute warning, the Packers not only were penalized 5 yards but NFL rules also call for a 10-second runoff. That left 10 seconds on the clock.

That’s when confusion set in, as umpire Undrey Wash stepped away from the ball and back into the Steelers’ defensive zone in anticipation of Cheffers blowing his whistle and starting the clock. Cheffers and Wash then spoke to each other, and Dietrich-Smith was told to take his hand off the ball. Once the clock began to run, Cheffers ran in behind Flynn as if to tell the quarterback that the clock was running.

Whatever happened, Flynn didn’t get the ball until 3 seconds remained, and by the time his pass to Jarrett Boykin sailed high and incomplete, there was no time left on the clock.

“We knew the clock was going to run and so we got everybody lined up. We should have been able to get two plays off,” said Flynn, whose offense was in position with 10 seconds left, awaiting Cheffers’ whistle. “We thought that the operation, getting the ball down and the clock started was a little bit weird. But we should’ve been able to get two plays off. We went as fast as we could.”

“I don’t know what happened, really. Everything just, the operation seemed kind of weird right there.”

Said Dietrich-Smith: “(The umpire) backed up, we were ready to go.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy thought Wash was standing over the ball when the clock started to run, but based on the CBS feed, he was not.