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Steelers notebook: Different conditions for Packers coach Mike McCarthy's 2nd homecoming

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, 10:36 a.m.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown with his helmet in front of Titans cornerback Logan Ryan in the fourth quarter Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown with his helmet in front of Titans cornerback Logan Ryan in the fourth quarter Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy walks off the field after defeating the Bears on Nov. 12, 2017, in Chicago.
Getty Images
Packers coach Mike McCarthy walks off the field after defeating the Bears on Nov. 12, 2017, in Chicago.

The only time Greenfield native Mike McCarthy brought the Green Bay Packers into Heinz Field, he watched Ben Roethlisberger throw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on the final play of the game and Jeff Reed kick the extra point to give the Steelers a pulsating 37-36 victory.

Roethlisberger had 503 passing yards and three touchdowns in that December 2009 matchup. Aaron Rodgers had 383 yards and also threw three TD passes for the Packers in a game that featured 35 combined points in the fourth quarter and four lead changes in the final eight minutes.

“I'm sure it was a great game to watch. It was a fun game to coach in,” McCarthy said Wednesday afternoon. “I think the thing I was most impressed with, because it was my first time there in the regular season, was the crowd and the atmosphere.”

The atmosphere could be electric again Sunday when McCarthy brings the Packers back to Heinz Field to face an 8-2 Steelers team that has won five in a row. The prime-time game coincides with the Steelers celebrating their inaugural Hall of Honor class.

McCarthy, though, shouldn't get his hopes up for another shootout. The Packers have scored just 67 points and are 1-4 in five games since Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone.

Brett Hundley, an inexperienced quarterback entering his third year, replaced Rogers in the eventual loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He has lost three of his four starts and is coming off a 23-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in which he was intercepted three times, sacked six times and had a 43.6 passer rating.

McCarthy was quick to say Hundley would remain the starter.

“He's a confident young man,” McCarthy said. “You look at his spirit. He has a very positive approach in everything he does. He's obviously disappointed, but he's bounced back, and we are really into our preparation.”

At 5-5, the Packers are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years. That was when the Packers went 6-10 in 2008, Rodgers' first as a starter after spending three years backing up Brett Favre. It is McCarthy's only losing season in his 12 years as Green Bay's coach.

Rodgers, though, was a first-round draft pick groomed to replace Favre. Hundley, a fifth-round pick in 2015, carries no such expectations. But he did spend two years learning the Packers' system before he was entrusted with the offense after Rodgers' injury.

“It's a huge benefit anytime a quarterback can learn the trade the best he can, and you're better prepared for that first experience,” McCarthy said. “Aaron had to go through the bumps and grind of your first NFL season as a starter. He did that in 2008, fought through injuries and the ups and downs of our football team, and it's the adversity that we all need.

“Your team needs it, every individual needs it. You need those adversity moments to fight through because there is so much to gain from that.”

Which is why McCarthy is in no hurry to replace Hundley under center until Rodgers returns.

“There's nothing like game experience,” McCarthy said. “We have ball security drills we do every day. You're trying to emulate game environment the best way you can through drill work and competitive team periods and situational team periods.

“The best experience is game experience.”

Brown gets AFC honor

Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass against his helmet Sunday. Three days later, he caught the AFC's top offensive honor.

Brown was named the conference offensive player of the week Wednesday on the heels of his 10-catch, 144-yard, three-touchdown game in the Steelers' 40-17 win against the Tennessee Titans.

Brown's 41-yard touchdown catch on the first drive of the game staked the Steelers to a 7-0 lead. He added a 5-yard scoring catch in the third quarter to provide a 23-14 lead. His third touchdown reception, a 10-yarder, came when he pinned the ball with one hand against his helmet as he fell into the right corner of the end zone.

The honor is the second for Brown and the fourth this season for a Steelers player.

Injury report

Despite fighting an illness that caused him to postpone his weekly media session, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a full practice participant Wednesday.

Also practicing were free safety Mike Mitchell (ankle) and outside linebacker James Harrison (back).

Three players did not practice: Smith-Schuster (hamstring), tight end Vance McDonald (ankle) and cornerback Joe Haden (fibula).

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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