Steelers top Packers on TD as clock runs out
Ben Roethlisberger throws to the corner of the end zone, the
receiver barely gets his feet down inbounds for a remarkable
touchdown. Ten months after winning the Super Bowl with just such
an improbable play, the Pittsburgh Steelers possibly saved their
season with a nearly identical one.
Roethlisberger ended the game the way he started it by throwing a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, a desperation 19-yarder on the final play that rallied Pittsburgh to a 37-36 victory over Green Bay on Sunday that ended the Packers' five-game winning streak and the Steelers' five-game losing streak.
"The way the game ended was incredible, especially that last play," center Justin Hartwig said, comparing the play to Roethlisberger's 6-yard pass to Santonio Holmes that beat Arizona for the NFL title last season. "It was obviously pretty reminiscent of the Super Bowl."
The Packers (9-5) stalled in their playoff run as they couldn't hold leads of 28-27 and 36-30 in a frantic fourth quarter that was much like Oakland's 27-23 win in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, when the lead changed hand five times in the final nine minutes. Green Bay could have secured a playoff spot with its first win in Pittsburgh since 1970 and a Giants loss or tie on Monday night but, instead, Minnesota clinched the NFC North with the Packers' loss.
Roethlisberger went 29 of 46 with three TDs and 503 yards passing while becoming the first Steelers quarterback to throw for 500 yards in a game. He kept the Steelers' decisive 86-yard drive going by finding Santonio Holmes for 32 yards on a fourth-and-7 play and Heath Miller for 30 on third-and-15.
Down to his last play, Roethlisberger found Wallace open in the left front corner of the end zone with Josh Bell in coverage. Wallace managed to keep both feet in on a play upheld by replay, and Jeff Reed -- who also kicked three field goals -- added the extra point.
Roethlisberger broke the team record of 473 yards by Tommy Maddox during a 34-all tie against Atlanta in 2002. His yardage is a league season high; Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb threw for 450 against San Diego on Nov. 15.
"The guys were coming back to the huddle worn out, linemen, receivers, everybody," Roethlisberger said. "We didn't quit. Everybody believed we could do it."
Including Wallace, who made no other catches except for his touchdowns. Shortly before making his decisive catch, Wallace quickly went to the locker room to get stitches to close a gash on his knee.
"It was kind of hard to run," Wallace said. "But that's just Ben. That's all I can say. That's just Ben."
Asked if he had good coverage on the play, Bell said, "Not good enough."
"You lose on a last-second play, with a spectacular throw and catch, it's tough," the Packers' Clay Matthews said. "Hindsight's always 20-20 but we knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was a dogfight."
Wallace also caught a 60-yard scoring pass on Pittsburgh's first play of the game as Steelers (7-7) joined five other AFC teams tied at 7-7 in the chase for the AFC's last playoff spot -- and just in time. One more play, and their season probably would have been over.
"Not dead yet," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got a little pulse here."
The Steelers have lost five times when ahead or tied in the fourth quarter, but they rallied this time during a final quarter that featured four lead changes and a failed Pittsburgh onside kick attempt with the Steelers ahead.
Aaron Rodgers, who finished 26 of 48 for 383 yards and three touchdown passes and ran for another, threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to James Jones on third-and-14 with 2:06 remaining to put Green Bay up 36-30 after Pittsburgh gambled and failed on an onside kick.
But the Steelers came back while outgaining the Packers 537-436 in a game that matched two of the NFL's top four defenses but turned into a passing duel almost from the start. Pittsburgh avoided becoming the first Super Bowl champion to lose six in a row the following season.
It was a tense and discouraging finish for Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native who couldn't deliver the Packers' first victory in his hometown since shortly after the Vince Lombardi era ended. The Packers are 0-4 since winning there in 1970.
"This is classic December football," McCarthy said. "It came down to the last play and we didn't get it done."
The Packers trailed 7-0, 14-7, 21-14 and 27-21 as Roethlisberger also threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Mewelde Moore late in the second quarter that made it 21-14. Green Bay went ahead for the first time at 28-27 on Ryan Grant's 24-yard touchdown run halfway through the fourth quarter. Before that, Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on an 83-yard TD pass that tied it at 7 and scooted through the Steelers' surprised defense on a 14-yard TD run that made it 14-all.
Pittsburgh later retook the lead on Reed's 43-yard field goal, his third of the game, with 3:58 remaining, but Tomlin -- aggressively trying to shake his team out of a slide that was ruining their season -- called for a surprise onside kick.
"To be honest, we hadn't stopped them and they hadn't stopped us," Tomlin said.
Ike Taylor fielded the ball before the kick bounced the required 10 yards, giving the Packers a huge break and the ball at Pittsburgh's 39-yard line. The Packers went on to score but, at the end, simply left their exhausted defense on the field one play too many.
"Unfortunately, the last team with the ball would win," Rodgers said.
The game was nearly devoid of running attempts -- Grant ran for a team-high 37 yards for Green Bay, Rashard Mendenhall gained 38 for Pittsburgh -- and featured nearly 900 yards passing.