Steelers earn critical win in Green Bay
Pittsburgh Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders (88) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell (26) leaps over Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Brett Keisel celebrates after the Steelers beat the Packers 38-31 Sunday in Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Steelers needed a little bit of help Sunday in Green Bay to beat the Packers and stay alive in the AFC playoff chase.
That’s what they got.
Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, Cortez Allen returned an interception for a touchdown and Troy Polamalu forced a critical fumble late in the game as Pittsburgh pulled out a 38-31 win at Lambeau Field.
Coupled with losses by Miami and Baltimore and a win by the Jets, the Steelers (7-8) staved off elimination.
“It’s been a long road for us, but we still have our struggles. We were one play from losing that game. Nothing has changed from our standpoint,” Polamalu said. “Our mental approach to the game has got to be a week-by-week thing.”
The loss meant Green Bay (7-7-1) needed Chicago to lose at Philadelphia Sunday night to stay in playoff contention.
“I’m not into drama,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We wanted to control our own destiny, we let that opportunity out of our hands.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout the cold, snowy day, with the Steelers unable to seal the deal until a last-second pass by quarterback Matt Flynn bounced off the hand of wide receiver Jarret Boykin in the end zone as time expired.
Polamalu made a huge play when he forced a fumble on a scrambling Flynn with just under two minutes to play and the game tied, 31-31.
Brett Keisel recovered the loose ball at the Green Bay 17 and Le’Veon Bell, who had a career-high 124 yards rushing, scored from the 1 with 1:25 remaining to give Pittsburgh a 38-31 lead.
The Packers got a big return to give them the ball deep in Pittsburgh territory with just over a minute remaining, but Flynn’s pass intended for Boykin fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Packers took a 7-0 lead on their second possession, driving 87 yards on 13 plays to score on a 5-yard pass from Flynn to Boykin over Allen.
The Steelers quickly answered the score to tie the game, 7-7, getting a 22-yard run from Bell and a 36-yard reception from Antonio Brown to set up a 1-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders with one second remaining in the first quarter.
Lacy put the Packers ahead again with 1:53 remaining in the first half, taking a handoff from Flynn at the Pittsburgh 14 and leaping over cornerback Ike Taylor at the 2 to get into the end zone and give Green Bay a 14-7 lead.
Sanders gave the Steelers a big spark on the ensuing kickoff, returning it 46 yards to the Green Bay 45. But after a 10-yard run by Bell to the Green Bay 13, Jerricho Cotchery dropped a pass at the Green Bay 7 and Roethlisberger overthrew Brown in the back of the end zone with 6 seconds remaining in the half. Pittsburgh settled for a 31-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham to cut Green Bay’s lead to 14-10 at the break.
The Steelers took their first lead of the game on the opening possession of the second half, using a little trickery to do so.
After Bell was stopped on a third-and-1 carry, the Steelers lined up to punt. But punter Mat McBriar took the snap, rolled to his right and threw a 30-yard completion to reserve tight end David Paulson. McBriar also took a late hit Jake Stoneburner, adding a 15-yard penalty to the end of the play.
That set up Roethlisberger’s 13-yard touchdown run on a scramble with 11:51 remaining in the third quarter to give Pittsburgh a 17-14 lead.
The Steelers stopped the Packers on their ensuing possession at the Pittsburgh 36, but Tim Masthay’s punt was downed at the 2. Bell was stripped of the ball on first down and Green Bay recovered at the 3. It was Bell’s first lost fumble of the season.
The Packers lined up for a 23-yard field goal, but Mason Crosby’s attempt was blocked by Cameron Heyward. Steelers safety Ryan Clark recovered the loose ball and attempted to lateral it to William Gay. But Gay fumbled it and as it rolled near the sideline, Ziggy Hood batted it out of bounds.
Hood was penalized for illegally batting the ball, and the officials ruled that Clark never had possession of the ball, inexplicably giving the Packers the ball back at the Pittsburgh 2.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin attempted to challenge the fact that Clark had possession of the ball and was told possession of the ball was not a reviewable play.
“It’s human error in this game,” Clark said. “The guy didn’t see it, he didn’t have the opportunity to know if I had possession, so he made the call that he saw and that’s part of football. It’s no big deal, we won.”
On the next play from scrimmage, Lacy scored from the 2 to give Green Bay a 21-17 lead.
But Bell made up for his miscue, breaking off a 25-yard run, hurdling a Green Bay defender along the way, to put the Steelers into scoring position. Roethlisberger threw an 11-yard TD pass to tight end Matt Spaeth to put the Steelers back on top, 24-21, with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter. Bell went over 100 yards rushing on the drive, his first 100-yard rushing game and the first by a Pittsburgh player in 22 games.
On Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage following the kick return, Flynn attempted a quick sideline pass, but collided with tight end Andrew Quarless as he threw, causing the ball to float high in the air. Cortez Allen grabbed it out of the air and returned it 40 yards for his first career touchdown and a 31-21 Pittsburgh lead.
The Steelers forced a Green Bay punt on their next possession, but inside linebacker A.J. Hawk made a beautiful one-handed, leaping interception of Roethlisberger on the final play of the third quarter to give the Packers the ball at the Pittsburgh 23.
Green Bay settled for a 22-yard Crosby field goal to trim Pittsburgh’s lead to 31-24.
The Packers then forced a punt to get the ball back at midfield and tie the game at 31-31 with 7:14 remaining in the game on a 1-yard TD run by John Kuhn.
Odds and end zones
The Steelers got some bad news Saturday when rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones fell ill with the flu at the team hotel. With Jones out, Chris Carter was pressed into duty at right outside linebacker, rotating there with Stevenson Sylvester. … Brett Keisel, Lawrence Timmons and Jason Worilds had sacks for the Steelers. … Sanders suffered a right knee injury at the end of the second quarter and did not return. … Linebacker Terrence Garvin suffered a left knee injury and did not return for the Steelers. ... Brown had 105 yards receiving and broke Yancey Thigpen’s team record for receiving yards in a season (1,397).