Monday, December 23, 2013

Deja Vu - Steelers Defeat Packers In Another Shootout, 38-31, Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

They were able to get the ball back with barely enough time on the clock. Needing to absolutely get into the end zone to get a win, they would have to do so with the entire length of the field in front of them. If they score, it's a chance at the playoffs. If they don't, they're watching at home.

With time running out, the ball is snapped on the last play of the game and...Ben Roethlisberger connects with Mike Wallace just inside the left edge of the end zone line, lifting the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Green Bay Packers, 37-36, back in 2009.

On Sunday, history almost repeated itself, except that it was the Packers who were having to come back. But as Big Ben said in his postgame interview, "there's no quit in this team." -

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:28 left on the clock to put the Steelers up 38-31. Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards and the Packers (7-7-1) were quickly in good position. But as it was four years ago, a touchdown was needed to win, or in this case tie, the game.

The Packers moved across the legendary tundra of Lambeau Field and found themselves at the Steelers 1-yard line. A false start penalty on Green Bay moved the ball back to the six and also incurred a :10 second runoff. With just 10 seconds on the game clock the last-ditch pass by quarterback Matt Flynn was incomplete and the Steelers would leave Wisconsin with a 38-31 victory.

The Steelers' 38 points Sunday marked the fourth time in their last eight games where they have scored at least 30 points. It also marked the fifth time this season that they scored that much, including more than 35 points twice, which is the first time a Steelers team has done that in over 40 years.

Once again, the Steelers (7-8) did it in all three phases of the game, also.

Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and Bell led the way on offense, while the defense was led by cornerback Cortez Allen, safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, linebackers Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons, and defensive linemen Brett Keisel and Cameron "Candyman" Heyward.

A far cry from 2009's 503-yard performance, Big Ben put in a workman-like effort as he threw for two scores and ran for another - the 15th of his career, putting him 3rd on the Steelers all-time list.

For yet another week the offensive line protected the QB (just one sack again) and opened holes for Bell, who was the Steelers Digest Player of the Week. He rushed 26 times for a career-high 124 yards, ending the Steelers drought of no 100-yard rushers at 22 games. His 129 yards from scrimmage pushed him to 1,163 for the season and second all-time for rookies in Steelers history and just 72 yards from tying Franco Harris.

Antonio Brown had six receptions for 105 yards and almost broke another punt return for a touchdown, going 41 yards on one return in the second half. There was one thing he did break on Sunday, though, that being the Steelers' record for receiving yards in a season with 1,412.

But, despite giving up 31 points and two rushing TDs to Eddie Lacy, it was the defense that ultimately won the game for the Steelers. Mainly by way of splash plays.

Cortez Allen, as well as Ike Taylor and William Gay, provided tight coverage overall on the Packers' receivers, and Ryan Clark had 10 tackles to tie for the team lead with Timmons. But the splash plays - Tez Allen's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, Troy Polamalu's forced fumble, his fifth of the season, and Keisel's recovery of the fumble, leading to Bell's TD run - were the difference makers, especially in the second half.

Those plays not only made it possible to win the game, but to keep their ever-so-slim playoff hopes alive. Does Polamalu acknowledge that his play could end up being key in a playoff run? Are they looking ahead like that?

"It's irrelevant, to be honest. Nothing has changed from our standpoint", Polamalu said. "Our mental approach to the game has got to be a week-by-week thing."

It would be nothing short of a miracle for the Steelers to make the playoffs. They have to beat the Browns, who'd love nothing more than to play spoiler and assure the Steelers a losing season and to be home for the holidays. They also have a bit of a Warriors-like gauntlet in front of them, needing the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all to lose. Can you dig it?

Back in 2009, the Packers had entered the shootout at Heinz Field as one of the NFL's most penalized teams and did commit five (out of seven total) penalties resulting in first downs for the Steelers.

Fittingly Sunday, the last few seconds were disrupted by the false start penalty mentioned near the beginning of the article. It ultimately was the dagger in the heart of the Packers that disallowed history from repeating itself in favor of the home team yet again.

But the Steelers did come off victorious. They did keep their playoff hopes alive. And they did not quit.


TIDBITS: Tomlin Postgame presser:

Around the locker room: