GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Steelers got everything they needed to happen to stay alive in the AFC wildcard chase in the early Sunday games.
Pittsburgh needed Buffalo to beat Miami. The Bills not only did that, they dominated the Dolphins, winning 19-0.
The Steelers also needed the New York Jets to beat Cleveland, and after falling behind 10-0, the Jets rallied for a 24-13 win.
Then, in the late afternoon games, the Steelers needed New England to beat Baltimore. They got that as well, with the Patriots hammering the Ravens, 41-7, in Baltimore.
All the Steelers needed to do to keep their postseason hopes alive was to beat the Green Bay Packers.
For a while, that seemed to be in question on a snowy, cold day at Lambeau Field.
It wasn’t always pretty and it certainly wasn’t the way anyone would have drawn it up, but the Steelers found a way to get a 38-31 win.
It helped that Aaron Rodgers wasn’t playing quarterback for the Packers. No one is going to confuse Matt Flynn for the former NFL MVP anytime soon.
But the Steelers weren’t about to feel sorry for the Packers. They had some issues of their own this week. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week with a calf injury. His replacement, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones, got the flu at the team hotel Saturday night, forcing the Steelers to play Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester at outside linebacker.
This game wasn’t about the defense, however. It’s the offense that is now carrying the Steelers.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger who had the big game, though he did throw two touchdown passes and run for another.
Roethlisberger had just 167 yards passing in the wind and snow. But the Steelers got the kind of rushing performance out of rookie Le’Veon Bell they have been waiting for all season.
Bell put together some highlight film runs, cutting and hurdling his way to a career-high 124 yards on 26 carries.
It helped that Eddie Lacy, a player the Steelers passed on to select Bell in the second round of this year’s draft, was running for Green Bay.
While Lacy, who scored a pair of touchdowns, set a Green Bay rookie rushing record and now has more than 1,100 rushing yards, Bell has done his damage in a different way this season.
In Bell, the Steelers saw a running back who could effectively run and catch the ball. To this point, though he had shown flashes as a runner and hadn’t put together a game-changing effort.
The Steelers needed every one of his 124 yards and a touchdown. No matter how much the NFL has turned into a pass-happy league, being able to run the football is a must in these conditions.
“The offense really carries us,” said linebacker Lawrence Timmons. “They did the job. Every time we needed a score, they came up with one.”
The defense surely helped in this one as well, but it was by taking the ball away in two critical moments rather than coming up with critical stops.
Cortez Allen had a big interception return for a touchdown, and Troy Polamalu forced a fumble at the end of the game to set up Bell’s final score.
The Steelers remain a longshot to get into the postseason. They still need a lot to fall in their way. But they’ve shown a ton of resiliency to get to this point.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.