Troy Polamalu, as he’s done so many times, came to the rescue for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Green Bay Packers, meanwhile, saw their playoff hopes take a major hit on an offside and a false start in the final 2 minutes in a 38-31 loss at Lambeau Field.
Ultimately, none of what happened on Sunday mattered. With Chicago getting blasted at Philadelphia, the Packers (7-7-1) will face the Bears (8-7) next Sunday with a chance to win the NFC North title. Kickoff has been moved to 3:25 p.m.
With the game tied at 31 at the 2-minute warning, Polamalu stripped scrambling Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, with the Steelers recovering at Green Bay’s 17. Shaun Suisham lined up for the go-ahead field goal with 1:35 to play but linebacker Nick Perry was flagged for offside, which gave the Steelers a first down. It was a huge blunder. Le’Veon Bell ran for 4 yards to the 1, forcing Green Bay to use its final timeout, and he scored from the 1 on the next play, making it 38-31 with 1:25 to go.
Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards – the team’s longest of the year entering the game was just 31. Completions of 8 yards to Jordy Nelson and 18 yards to Andrew Quarless made it first-and-goal at the 5. James Starks carried to the 1 on the next play. With the clock running, right tackle Don Barclay was flagged for a false start – a 5-yard infraction and a 10-second runoff. The officials set the ball at the 6 and started the clock with 10 seconds to go. Flynn’s throw to Jarrett Boykin was incomplete as time expired.
Green Bay, which overcame big deficits in back-to-back wins over Atlanta and Dallas behind Flynn, rallied from a 10-point deficit to tie the game at 31 with 7:14 to play. A 31-yard completion to Nelson and two powerful runs from Starks set up fullback John Kuhn’s 1-yard touchdown.
The Steelers took a 31-21 at the end of a wild 5-minute sequence to end the third quarter.
After Pittsburgh rallied to take a 24-21 lead, Flynn threw a quick pass to Boykin. As he was about to throw, Quarless ran into Flynn. Flynn’s fluttering pass was picked off by cornerback Cortez Allen, who raced 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Packers’ ensuing possession went nowhere but, on the final play of the third quarter, linebacker A.J. Hawk made a one-handed interception. Green Bay took over at the 23 but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to pull within 31-24 with 12:04 remaining.
Green Bay took a 21-17 lead with 5:19 to go in the third quarter after a bizarre sequence of plays. After the Packers downed a punt at the 2, Bell was almost tackled in the end zone but powered out to about the 4, where he was stripped by linebacker Jamari Lattimore. Bell was ruled down but the Packers won the challenge, taking possession at the 2 on cornerback Tramon Williams’ recovery.
The Steelers, however, stopped the Packers cold. With Green Bay using defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels as extra blockers, Eddie Lacy was dropped for a loss of 3 by rookie linebacker Vince Williams. After two incomplete passes, Vince Williams blocked a chip-shot field-goal attempt by Mason Crosby.
It appeared safety Ryan Clark picked up the loose ball and attempted a lateral. The ball hit the ground, however, with defensive lineman Ziggy Hood batting the ball out of bounds. Hood was flagged for illegal batting, and Green Bay retained possession when the officials ruled the Steelers never possessed the ball, much to Tomlin’s dismay. Lacy scored from the 2 on the next play to give Green Bay a 21-17 lead.
The Steelers answered quickly. Bell made amends for his fumble with a 25-yard run in which he hurdled safety Morgan Burnett. Roethlisberger punctuated the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth.
Moments later, Allen got his key pick-six.
The Steelers’ special teams were a dominant force throughout and got a huge play on the first possession of the third quarter. On fourth-and-2 near midfield, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called for a fake punt. Punter Mat McBriar rolled to his right and patiently waited for someone to get open before lofting a pass deep to backup tight end David Paulson for a gain of 30. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Jake Stoneburner tacked on 15 more yards. On the next play, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and ran untouched for a 13-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh its first lead, 17-14.
A subplot was the battle between bruising second-round rookie running backs Lacy and Bell. Lacy put the Packers ahead 14-7 late in the first half. Lacy took a pitch to the right, cut back left and hurdled cornerback Ike Taylor at the goal line for a 13-yard score. It was Lacy’s eighth touchdown in the last 10 games. Bell had 71 yards in the first half and Lacy had 68.
The score was tied 7-7 after one quarter. Green Bay took a 7-0 lead on Flynn’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin, who made a leaping grab over cornerback Cortez Allen. The big play on the drive was an 8-yard reception by receiver James Jones, who pulled an interception away from Taylor.
Pittsburgh answered with a no-huddle drive to tie the game. Bell ran for 22 yards on a shotgun draw, and Roethlisberger hit Brown deep for 36. After three runs by Bell, Roethlisberger hit receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a 1-yard touchdown.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.