PITTSBURGH – After losing 55-31 to the New England Patriots Nov. 3, setting team records for points and yards allowed in a game, few people would have guessed the Steelers would still be alive in the AFC playoff race heading into the final week of the season.
Heck, even most of the Steelers had written the playoffs off as a goal. They just wanted to avoid the franchise’s first losing record since 2003.
But after beating Green Bay, 38-31, Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Steelers are very much in the playoff race.
“I know, isn’t that crazy?” said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. “We still are breathing and we are going to continue to fight. We still have to win one more to even have a shot at this and that will be our focus.”
Heading into the regular-season finale Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers (7-8) need several things to happen to slide into the second wild-card slot in the AFC.
Pittsburgh needs a win over Cleveland (4-11) and losses by Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (10-5), San Diego (8-7) at home against Kansas City (11-4) and Miami (8-7) at home against the New York Jets (7-8).
It’s a long shot, but a shot nonetheless.
“So you’re saying we have a chance,” said guard Ramon Foster, jokingly referring to a line from the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”
“Guys were whispering a little bit here and there. But we knew we had to handle this business.”
That proved to be the toughest part Sunday.
After Pittsburgh blocked a field-goal attempt only to have the ball given back to Green Bay when defensive end Ziggy Hood was penalized for illegally batting the ball out of bounds toward his own end zone, Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy scored a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Packers a 21-17 lead.
But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an 11-yard TD pass to tight end Matt Spaeth, and cornerback Cortez Allen intercepted a Matt Flynn pass on the first play of Green Bay’s ensuing possession, returning it for his first career touchdown to give the Steelers 14 points in a span of 14 seconds late in the third quarter.
Green Bay, however, erased that deficit to tie the score at 31-31 with 7:17 remaining. Safety Troy Polamalu then forced Flynn to fumble on a third-down scramble deep in Packers territory and Keisel recovered to give the Steelers the ball at the Green Bay 17-yard line.
Pittsburgh set up for a field goal with 1:40 remaining but the Packers jumped offside, giving the Steelers a first down at 5. A run by Le’Veon Bell, who had a career-high 124 rushing yards, put the ball at the Green Bay 1 with 1:28 remaining on second down.
Instead of having Roethlisberger take a knee and drain more of the clock, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin opted to try to score a touchdown, which Bell did, giving Green Bay the ball back with 1:25 remaining.
“I just had a concern of kneeling under the circumstances with the weather conditions being what they were,” Tomlin said Monday. “Their kicker had a kick blocked earlier on that end of the field. And to be honest with you, it wasn’t anything that we did. I just think it was a low-hit ball. I was concerned about the weather conditions from that standpoint. Also, when they utilized their last timeout, I was more comfortable with putting the defense on the field under those circumstances after getting a touchdown. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably do it the same.”
However, the Packers got a kickoff return to the Pittsburgh 31. Later, the Steelers stopped Green Bay’s James Starks on a run at the 1 before a Flynn pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the game’s final play.
“This team just keeps fighting,” Bell said. “That we have a slim chance is just a great opportunity for us. We faltered a bit at the beginning of the season, but guys are really fighting, trying to get into the playoffs.”
Odds and end zones
Tomlin said Monday that injuries to linebacker Terrence Garvin (knee) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (knee) have them questionable to play against Cleveland. Linebacker Jarvis Jones (flu), who missed the Green Bay game, is expected to play.