Steelers: Wallace pulls in winning TD to snap skid
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The Steelers tried every which way to get back to winning football games before they went back to an old favorite, the drive that delivered them a victory in Super Bowl XLIII.
With their coach admitting in so many words and deeds he had lost all faith in his defense to stop the Green Bay Packers, the offense drove 86 yards on 12 plays and squeezed every last second of the clock to do so to deliver a 37-36 victory at Heinz Field.
This time it was not Santonio Holmes toe-tapping in the right side of the end zone for the winner, but rookie Mike Wallace catching a 19-yard pass with both toes barely in bounds with no time left. That tied the score, Jeff Reed's kick won it and, while it did not deliver another Lombardi Trophy, it put a five-game losing streak out of their misery.
"We're not dead yet," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declared. "We have a little pulse here."
Indeed, the Steelers cling precariously to contention for a wild-card playoff berth with a 7-7 record, but the reality of their chances can hold for another day. That they put their finger in the dike that was near dissolution was reason alone for them to celebrate last night.
"I think we went through a whole range of emotions [last night]," linebacker James Farrior said.
The fourth quarter alone featured four touchdowns and two field goals in the kind of fastbreak game rarely seen in Heinz Field. In fact, a lot that occurred yesterday rarely had been seen at all in Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger's 503 yards passing set a franchise record and he became the third quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Hines Ward had 126 yards and Heath Miller 118, both on seven catches.
"They didn't hold anything back," said Pittsburgh native and Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team's five-game winning streak ended.
Wallace caught two touchdown passes -- on the Steelers' first and final plays on offense. His first carried 60 yards. But it was his final one that brought back the flood of memories from Super Bowl XLIII in February, when the Steelers drove 88 yards and Holmes caught the winner with 35 seconds to go.
"I think there was more work on this drive here than it was back in February," Holmes said. "That last drive in February was a lot easier than this here."
Holmes kept the drive going when, on fourth down at the Steelers' 22, he caught a 32-yard pass. The Packers (9-5) helped the Steelers with a few penalties, one negating a sack of Roethlisberger and another an interception that would have given Green Bay a six-point victory.
The Steelers converted that fourth down, another on third-and-15, and the final play, snapped with three seconds left, came on third-and-10.
"He just threw the ball to a spot," Wallace said of the winning touchdown pass, "and was counting on me to be there.
"Once I caught the ball, I knew I was in."
No one may have been more relieved than Tomlin. With Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers gouging his once-dominant defense for 383 yards and three touchdowns passing and the Packers scoring nearly at will in the fourth quarter, Tomlin made a strange call.
After Reed's third field goal of the second half, from 43 yards, put the Steelers up by two with four minutes left, Tomlin ordered an onside kick.
"We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them," Tomlin explained. "We also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That's why we took the risk when we did."
It failed when Ike Taylor touched the ball before it had gone the required 10 yards. The Packers took over at the Steelers' 39 after the botched onside kick and scored on Rodgers' 24-yard touchdown pass to James Jones with 2:06 to go. Had the 36-30 lead stood, Tomlin might never have lived it down.
"I wear that like a badge of honor," Tomlin said. "That comes with the job. I don't live in fear."
The Steelers took over at their 14 after a bobbled kickoff return with 2:06 left. They needed a touchdown to avoid tying their longest losing streak in 40 years.
"It seems like it took 20 minutes for the one-minute offense," Farrior said. "They worked it to perfection."
It was not pretty at times, but it worked.
"Guys were coming back to the huddle worn out -- linemen, wide receivers, everybody," Roethlisberger said.
But one player took command.
"Only one guy was talking in huddle, and that was Ben," Holmes said. "No other voice was spoken. No one had an opportunity to talk. We were dead tired."
The game began as a track meet, too, with three touchdowns in the first quarter. Wallace scored from 60 yards and Rashard Mendenhall ran from the 2 around the Packers' 83-yard strike from Rodgers to Greg Jennings.
Green Bay tied it on Rodgers' 14-yard scramble up the middle, and then Mewelde Moore took a 10-yard screen pass to put the Steelers back on top by halftime, 21-14.
Reed's 37-yard field goal was the only score of the third quarter before the fourth quarter lit up like a Zambelli fireworks display.
First, tight end Jermichael Finley caught a 11-yard pass for Green Bay and the Steelers' lead was chopped to three. It became six on Reed's 34-yard field goal before the Packers took their first lead of the game on Ryan Grant's ridiculously easy 24-yard touchdown run, 28-27.
Reed kicked his 43-yarder with 3:58 and it was game on, with Tomlin figuring the team with the ball at the end would win.
"His plan was that if they were going to score, he wanted to leave us enough time to go down the field and score on them," center Justin Hartwig said. "And the plan worked."
Yes, it did. Barely, but then, that is how the Steelers were losing games in the past five weeks and that is how the playoff hopes for the reigning Super Bowl champs beat -- barely.
"That is kind of a Pittsburgh mentality," Roethlisberger said. "We don't quit, no matter what."
First Published December 21, 2009 12:00 am