Steelers notebook: Playoff route is complicated

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here is how the Steelers can earn the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC next Sunday:

They must beat Cleveland. Cincinnati must beat Baltimore. San Diego must lose to Kansas City. Miami must lose to the New York Jets.

If all that happens, the Steelers will make the playoffs at 8-8. If any one of those outcomes do not occur, the Steelers will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

They needed almost as much to happen Sunday to have a chance entering the final game. When the Jets beat Cleveland, Miami lost to Buffalo and Baltimore lost to New England, it opened the door for them winning here and maintaining their long-shot hopes, which began at 300-1 Sunday.

Controversy rages

Referee Carl Cheffers said after the game to a pool reporter that the officials ruled the Steelers did not have possession after Steve McLendon blocked Green Bay's 23-yard field-goal try.

Replays clearly showed that Ryan Clark had possession before he lateralled the ball to William Gay, who did not catch it. Ziggy Hood batted it out of bounds on purpose, and the officials ruled that illegal and gave the ball back to Green Bay.

"We ruled that there was no possession in the field of play," Cheffers said, "so that's why we enforced it as a foul during a loose ball and went to the previous spot."

Cheffers told both the pool reporter and Tomlin that the call could not be challenged by replay. Tomlin, a member of the NFL's competition committee that helps set the game's rules, sounded skeptical when asked why he was not permitted to challenge it.

"Don't ask me."

Cheffers was not asked by the pool reporter why he would not let Tomlin challenge the call on whether Clark had recovered the ball.

Carter starts for ailing Jones

Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones came down ill overnight and was among the seven inactive players for the game. That meant Chris Carter started at outside right linebacker, where he started the first three games of the 2012 season for injured James Harrison.

They had no other outside linebackers for depth because they also placed recently signed Jamaal Westerman on the inactive list Sunday.

The other inactives were Landry Jones, Derek Moye, Isaiah Green, David Snow and Hebron Fangupo.

Injury report

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders left the game at halftime with an injured knee and did not return. He will have an MRI.

"Hopefully, we can go back and see what's going on and go from there," said Sanders.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds left the game and returned. Tomlin said it was nothing serious.

Linebacker Terence Garvin left the game with a stinger.

Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews injured his thumb while sacking Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter and did not return.

A break and a fluke

The Steelers caught a break when Packers quarterback Matt Flynn was clipped by teammate Andrew Quarless, who was stepping up to block, as he attempted a pass to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin late in the third quarter. The ball fluttered and was intercepted by Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 31-21 lead.

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson called it a "fluke interception," but said of the Packers' mindset, "We all just looked at each other and said, 'This is nothing different than what we had to do last week.' " The Packers rallied from a 23-point deficit in the second half to beat the Dallas Cowboys a week earlier but came up short this time. "We made some plays, just not enough," Nelson said.

Hyde runs out of gears

The Packers' Micah Hyde had his team's three longest kickoff returns this season -- 33, 39 and 70 yards. The final one would have been a tying touchdown if not for a saving tackle by Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas. "I knew a couple of guys had the angle on me," Hyde said. "I would have liked to burst into another speed, but, unfortunately, I didn't have another gear."

Bell outduels Lacy

The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell won the battle of rookie running backs against Green Bay's Eddie Lacy. Bell had 26 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown. Lacy had 15 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns. "He is a great player," Bell said of Lacy. "It was definitely a challenge on my part. I wanted to go out there and play at his level or better. I am just glad that we got the win."

Just a matter of time

If you had "Central" in the office pool, you win.

The Steelers Sunday snapped an eight-game losing streak outside of the Eastern time zone that stretched to 2011.They had gone three zones west (California) and five zones east (London) trying to break that jinx.

Quick hits

* The Steelers scored at least 20 points for the eighth game in a row (31, 23, 37, 27, 20, 28, 30, 38).

* The Steelers-Browns game will not be flexed, and will remain a 1 p.m. kickoff.

* Bell raised his total to 1,163 yards from scrimmage and moved into second among Steelers rookies behind only Franco Harris, who had 1,235.

* Sunday was the first time the Steelers had two rushing touchdowns in the same game since getting two in London against Minnesota Sept. 29.

* The Steelers held the ball for 26 minutes, 40 seconds Sunday, the first time in eight games they failed to keep it for at least 30 minutes.

* The Steelers and Packers have been tangling since 1933, when the Steelers were called the Pirates and the Golden Gate Bridge was a work in progress.

* The Packers had won 13 consecutive regular-season games at home in December and January, the longest such streak in the NFL going into Sunday.

Gene Collier and Ron Cook contributed to this report. Ed Bouchette: and Twitter @ EdBouchette.

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