Steelers remain in contention for AFC playoffs with 38-31 win at Green Bay



 GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Defensive end Brett Keisel looked around snowy, iconic Lambeau Field before the kickoff Sunday and became a football prophet.

"This," he told some teammates, "is a game we can tell our kids about."

If things fall just right next week for the Steelers the way they did Sunday, they can tell their grandkids about an entire season.

After everything else fell smack into place in three other cities, the Steelers finished off the chain of events they needed to keep their faint playoff hopes beating by slipping past the Green Bay Packers, 38-31.

They squandered a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and nearly blew a seven-point lead in the final minute before Matt Flynn threw incomplete into the end zone from the Steelers 6 on the last play to render their season relevant for at least the final week.

Before that, Troy Polamalu forced Flynn to fumble on a scramble. Keisel recovered at the Packers 17. Le'Veon Bell scored from the 1 on a second down with 1:25 to go to put the Steelers ahead, 38-31.

Did the Packers allow the Steelers to score to have enough time left to tie the score? Even offensive coordinator Todd Haley asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that question when he came off the field.

"If they did," Roethlisberger said, "they sold it really well. I didn't think so, though."

Mike Tomlin said he never thought of downing the ball twice to run down the clock and then kick a field goal.

"I'm not into that," the coach said.

One final twist occurred when Green Bay's Micah Hyde returned the kickoff 70 yards to the Steelers 31, but the Packers comeback attempt petered out on Flynn's incompletion.

"You don't see games like that often," linebacker Lawrence Timmons declared.

Strange circumstances occurred throughout a cold, snowy game, including a successful fake punt by the Steelers, and the officials' ruling on a blocked field goal that drew Tomlin's anger. They won a game the way they haven't won for much of the season. Rookie Bell rushed for 124 yards, ending an historic drought of 22 consecutive games by them without a 100-yard rusher. And after their defense had such trouble forcing turnovers most of the season, they came up with two in the fourth quarter that won the game.

"It wasn't the prettiest of games, but everyone did enough to finish," Timmons said. "It just shows the will of this team."

It may be hard to understand, but the Steelers at 7-8 have a chance to make the playoffs if they beat Cleveland next Sunday and get help from others. If they do win a game in which they will be heavily favored, they will have finished the second half of the season at 6-2 after starts of 0-4 and 2-6 and be on a roll if they make the postseason.

"Now, we can enjoy Christmas," said halfback Jonathan Dwyer. "We're cooking right now. All we can worry about is winning our game and letting the chips fall where they may. If they give us a chance to get into this tournament, I think we can do something very special."

That happened here Sunday.

Green Bay led, 14-10, at halftime. Flynn threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin and rookie Eddie Lacy ran 14 yards for a score. The Steelers countered with Roethlisberger's 1-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders and Shaun Suisham kicked a 31-yard field goal.

They were only warming up for the kind of second half that Keisel predicted they would remember for a long time.

It began with a fake punt early in the third quarter. Mat McBriar dropped into punt formation for the Steelers, took the deep snap and rolled to his right. He sent a perfect pass to David Paulson down the right side for 30 yards. The Packers were penalized another 15 for roughing McBriar after he threw it.

That put the ball on the 13. On the next play, Roethlisberger scrambled up the middle for a touchdown. The Steelers led for the first time, 17-14.

"We've been working that all year just waiting for the appropriate time," Tomlin said of the fake punt. "He's employed to punt the ball, not throw the ball. We rolled him out and gave him multiple options. He made the appropriate read and made a good throw to boot."

The next play was more unusual.

The Steelers' Steve McLendon blocked a 23-yard field-goal try, and the ball bounced toward the sideline. Ryan Clark recovered it and tried to lateral to William Gay, who could not catch it. The ball bounced on the field, and Ziggy Hood batted it out of bounds. That was illegal, and the officials called a penalty on Hood.

But then they gave the Packers the ball back and a first down at the 2. They ruled the Steelers had never possessed the ball and also said Tomlin could not challenge a possession call.

"They screwed it up, in my opinion," Tomlin said.

On first down, Lacy ran 2 yards for a touchdown to put Green Bay back in the lead, 21-17, with 5:19 to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers played like an angry team after that call by the officials.

"I'm not going to speak for them," Tomlin said. "I was angry."

Whatever emotions were swirling around with the snow, they produced 14 points in 18 seconds.

On the next play, Bell ripped off a 25-yard run and the Steelers whipped quickly to Roethlisberger's 11-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth. On the next play from scrimmage, Flynn threw to his right, cornerback Cortez Allen intercepted it and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.

The Steelers led, 31-21, but the story wasn't over.

On the last play of the third quarter, A.J. Hawk intercepted Roethlisberger, and it led to a 22-yard field goal by Green Bay's Mason Crosby.

The Packers provided one more touchdown drive capped by former Steelers fullback John Kuhn's 1-yard run to tie it, 31-31, and set up the dramatics at the end.

And now the drama continues for one more week.

"Isn't that crazy?" said Keisel, who also had a sack to go with his fumble recovery. "We still are breathing and we are going to continue to fight."

"This is the NFL," Timmons said. "Anything is possible."

They proved that point Sunday in the league's most historic cathedral.

 


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @ EdBouchette. First Published December 22, 2013 5:08 PM

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