Game Review: Packers Fall On Final Play At Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH - Green Bay showed its mettle on Sunday by coming back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but the Packers couldn’t come up with one final stop as it tried to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. - More Packers-Steelers Game Center


Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger celebrates after throwing the game-winning 19-yard TD pass as time expired.

PITTSBURGH - Green Bay showed its mettle on Sunday by coming back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but the Packers couldn't come up with one final stop as it tried to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace on the side of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass as time expired to give Pittsburgh (7-7) a 37-36 victory over the Packers in front of 57,452 at Heinz Field, the first 37-36 game in the history of the NFL.

The loss snapped Green Bay's five-game winning streak as the team fell to 9-5 on the season. If the playoffs started today, the Packers would be in as the No. 5 seed in the NFC, with Dallas also standing at 9-5. The only other team that is in the wild-card hunt, the New York Giants (7-6), play at Washington on Monday night. A win by the Packers and a loss by either the Cowboys or Giants in the final two games would clinch a playoff berth for Green Bay.

"All losses are difficult," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Losses in December are probably a little more important. This was a game we had a lot of confidence coming into. We knew we were going to have to score some points today on the offensive side of it. I don't think we thought it would go that way as far as their aggressiveness and the passing game against our defense.

"We came up one play short and it will be corrected (Monday). I'm sure there will be a number of opportunities where we could've probably made one play. I think this is classic December football. It came down to the last play of the game and we didn't get it done."

Coming in as the No. 2-ranked defense in the league (272.0 yards per game), the Packers allowed a season-high 537 yards of total offense by the Steelers. Most of the damage came through the air courtesy of a team-record 503 yards and three touchdowns by Roethlisberger on 29-of-46 passing (121.9 passer rating), which was also the most yards allowed by the Packers in franchise history.

"There is something to be said about execution, and they executed all game," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "(Roethlisberger) as a player, the way he can keep plays alive, he did that a lot today and just came up with a heck of a play at the end of the game to win it. When you're up like that late in the game, you've got to come up with that win. We didn't do it and they did."

Both teams made big plays through the air in the first quarter, with Wallace getting behind cornerback Jarrett Bush to catch a 60-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger on the Steelers' first offensive play of the game. The Packers answered less than five minutes later with quarterback Aaron Rodgers finding Greg Jennings over the middle for an 83-yard score, the longest touchdown pass and reception in the respective players' careers, to even the score at seven.

Roethlisberger would lead the Steelers on two more 70-plus yard scoring drives on the way to Pittsburgh's 21-14 halftime lead, and the only points of the third quarter came by way of a 37-yard Jeff Reed field goal as the Steelers led 24-14 after three quarters.

But then Green Bay's offense started to find its rhythm, with Rodgers leading a 13-play drive capped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley to bring the Packers within three at 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.

After Pittsburgh tacked on three more points with another Reed field goal, the Packers struck back in a hurry, going 62 yards in less than two minutes as running back Ryan Grant found a hole on the left side for a 24-yard touchdown and a 28-27 lead.

"The offense did a good job of finishing and fighting through," Grant said. "I think it is a tribute to Aaron really keeping guys motivated guys the whole time. In the huddle each drive he was saying, 'Let's go. We can do it.' We felt like we could move the ball against them. We just needed to play our game and stay solid and make the plays. Guys stepped up."

The Steelers re-took the lead on another Reed field goal with under four minutes remaining, and then made the aggressive move to attempt an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. Cornerback Ike Taylor scooped up Reed's kick, but it was a yard shy of the required 10 yards, so Green Bay found themselves with a short field at the Pittsburgh 39.

"I don't think it surprises you," McCarthy said. "They were playing to win. I thought they threw caution to the wind. I thought they threw everything at us. They didn't hold anything back. I thought (offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians did a hell of a job today. I thought he called an extremely aggressive game on their part, and obviously Mike (Tomlin) was going for the win there with the onside kick."

The Packers made the Steelers pay when Rodgers found wide receiver James Jones on a 3rd-and-14 for a 24-yard touchdown, Rodgers' third touchdown pass of the day, and running back Brandon Jackson on a two-point conversion pass as Green Bay once again grabbed a hold of the lead with just over two minutes remaining. Rodgers finished with 383 yards on 26-of-48 passing, the second-highest yardage total of his career.

Mason Crosby's squib kick on the ensuing kickoff went past returner Stefan Logan, who ran back to pick up the ball and returned it just 2 yards out to the Pittsburgh 14. Facing a 4th-and-7 at the 22 four plays later, Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Santonio Holmes with linebacker Nick Barnett covering for a 32-yard gain into Green Bay territory.

{sportsad300}Two plays later, it looked like Green Bay had put the game away when linebacker Brandon Chillar deflected Roethlisberger's pass into the arms of Bush for an interception, but Chillar was flagged for illegal contact on the play to give Pittsburgh another first down.

After two incomplete passes and a false-start penalty, Roethlisberger came through once again, finding tight end Heath Miller on the left sideline for a 20-yard pickup to Green Bay's 36 to convert a 3rd-and-15.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins sacked Roethlisberger on the next play, but it was wiped out by a holding penalty on cornerback Josh Bell. Roethlisberger connected with Miller again on the next play, this time a 15-yard gain over the middle to Green Bay's 19 as the Steelers used their final timeout with 18 seconds remaining.

After two incomplete passes ran the clock down to three seconds, Pittsburgh had one final chance. With Bell in man-to-man coverage against Wallace, Roethlisberger threaded the pass to him on the sideline for the touchdown to give Pittsburgh the win as time expired.

"Anytime something happens like that on the last play, basically you look back because there are other plays within the game that let us get to that point," Chillar said. "We really didn't need to be at that point. A penalty here, my penalty, a missed coverage here, that's all it takes."

Several players said after the game that Sunday's loss in a playoff-like atmosphere could serve as a learning experience for the team, but Green Bay now sets its sights on getting a 10th win next Sunday that would push the team that much closer to being a part of the postseason.

"Confidence comes with winning," McCarthy said. "There are different levels of success that you have during the course of a performance, and we'll point to that. We're very honest and realistic with our correction and evaluation process, and that's the way we'll go at it in the morning with the players.

"It's important to correct this and move on to Seattle. The Seattle game is very important to us. We need to get our win total to 10. That'll be the focus as soon as we get off the plane back here in Green Bay. But a tough loss for everybody. To let one get away at the last play of the game, it's a hard one to swallow."

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