Steelers somehow still alive for playoffs

The math remains tricky. The circumstances remain less than

ideal.

And yet, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still alive for the

playoffs entering the final week of the season. The same team that

started 0-4. The same team that appeared in need of a

franchise-wide overhaul after a 55-31 pounding in New England that

dropped the Steelers to 2-6 in late-October. The same team that let

Miami score 34 points in the snow two weeks ago.

Yep, that’s the team that can say the word postseason with a

straight face after a frantic 38-31 win at Green Bay on Sunday.

”Isn’t that crazy?” defensive end Brett Keisel said. ”We

still are breathing and we’re going to continue to fight. We’ve got

one more that we’ve got to win to even have a shot and that will be

our focus.”

Well, that and the scoreboard. The Steelers (7-8) need to beat

the fading Browns (4-11) next weekend and hope Miami, Baltimore and

San Diego – all 8-7 – lose. It would create a five-way tie for the

final wild card spot that would somehow end with Pittsburgh

traveling to Cincinnati to face the AFC North Bengals for the third

time this season.

As improbable as it seems, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin likes

his chances. Last he checked, a slim shot was better than no shot

at all.

”We’ve made this bed,” Tomlin said Monday. ”I like the way

the group is laying in it.”

The Steelers have won two straight and are 7-4 since Oct. 1, the

same mark over that span as playoff-bound Indianapolis, Kansas City

and New England. Despite the surge, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

is reluctant to get too involved in the way the dominoes would have

to fall for Pittsburgh to play into January.

”I don’t even know what the scenario is,” Roethlisberger said.

”But I’m sure it’s still crazy.”

Nearly as crazy as nearly four hours of insanity at wintry

Lambeau Field in a victory that included massive momentum swings, a

rarely seen penalty on a batted ball, a perfectly executed fake

punt and one last stand by a couple of veterans who are in the

twilights of their career.

Yet when Matt Flynn’s last-second pass fell incomplete,

Pittsburgh hopped the plane home with a puncher’s chance.

”This team just keeps fighting,” running back Le’Veon Bell

said. ”We faltered a bit at the beginning of the season, but guys

are really fighting, trying to get into the playoffs.”

Even if they don’t make it, the Steelers hardly look like the

sad sack that was woefully overmatched when it was whipped by the

Patriots. Pittsburgh forced a pair of turnovers and converted both

into touchdowns. Bell shook off a fumble and ran for a career-high

124 yards and the winning score with 1:25 to go.

It’s a touchdown that came after the 35-year-old Keisel –

playing for only the second time in the last six weeks due to

plantar fasciitis in his left foot – jumped on a loose ball deep in

Green Bay territory after safety Troy Polamalu jarred it loose from

a scrambling Flynn.

Thanks to an offsides penalty on a field goal attempt that

eventually pushed the ball to the Green Bay 1, Bell strolled into

the end zone as the Packers intentionally put up little

resistance.

Green Bay’s goal was to preserve enough time on the clock to try

and drive back down the field and knot the game again rather than

let Pittsburgh milk the clock and kick a short field goal at the

end.

Though the Packers nearly pulled it off, Tomlin defended his

decision again on Monday.

”Obviously, there are a lot of options and I’m sure that they

had options in terms of how they could have finished the game,”

Tomlin said. ”All of that is good armchair quarterback Monday

stuff. We did what we had to do to win the football game.”

Win one more and the Steelers avoid the franchise’s first losing

season in a decade. Get help from the Bengals, the New York Jets

and the Kansas City Chiefs, and a season filled that looked done

two months ago becomes something considerably more interesting.

””Yeah, I feel like right now we are starting to come into our

own, which you want,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. ”We

still have a shot at making the playoffs if things go in our favor

next week, so we are optimistic about that.”

NOTES: Tomlin said Sanders will be limited in practice this week

with a sprained knee. … LB Jarvis Jones, who was inactive on

Sunday due to flu-like symptoms, is expected to practice on

Tuesday.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org