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12-22-2009, 02:41 AM
TD on final play keeps Steelers' hope alive
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer, dlolley@observer-reporter.com
http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/loc ... kers-gamer (http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localsports/12-21-Steelers-Packers-gamer)


PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger threw only two completions Sunday to rookie receiver Mike Wallace.

Each was meaningful.

Roethlisberger passed for a team-record 503 yards and connected with Wallace for a 60-yard touchdown on Pittsburgh's first offensive play, then found him for a 19-yard TD on the game's final play as the Steelers pulled out an improbable 37-36 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field.

The victory - the first 37-36 final score in NFL history - not only ended the Steelers' five-game losing streak, it also kept Pittsburgh relevant in the AFC playoff picture.

The Steelers (7-7) and five other teams trail Baltimore (8-6) and Denver (8-6) for the wild-card spots. Pittsburgh beat Denver and hosts Baltimore next week.

"We're not dead yet," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "The guys made enough plays, and we hadn't won in a while so it feels good. We've got a little pulse here. Hopefully, we can use this as momentum."

It was a victory that nearly got away from the Steelers.

Leading 24-14, Pittsburgh squandered a lead in the fourth quarter for the sixth time. Unlike the previous five times, the Steelers were able to recover.

Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns with one rushing touchdown, pulled the Packers to within 24-21 with an 11-yard scoring pass to tight end Jermichael Finley early in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers answered with Jeff Reed's 37-yard field goal that made it 27-21, but Rodgers completed three passes to set up a 24-yard TD run by Ryan Grant with 7:58 remaining. It gave Green Bay its first lead, 28-27.

The Steelers drove from their own 31-yard line to the Green Bay 23, but an 11-yard scramble from Roethlisberger was negated by a holding penalty and Pittsburgh settled for a 43-yard field goal by Reed and a 30-28 lead with 4:03 left.

That's when Tomlin decided to gamble.

After watching Rodgers shred his defense, Tomlin decided to attempt an onside kick. However, Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor touched the football before it had gone the required 10 yards and Green Bay was awarded possession at the Pittsburgh 39.

"I thought, with the element of surprise, we had a chance to recover it," Tomlin said. "But if we didn't get it and they were to score, then we would have the necessary time on the clock to match their score."

Rodgers did his part in Tomlin's plan, putting the Packers ahead with a 24-yard TD pass to James Jones with 2:12 remaining. Rodgers then completed a two-point conversion pass to running back Brandon Jackson, which gave Green Bay a 36-30 advantage.

"He's our head coach," said Roethlisberger, who completed 29 of 46 passes. "When he makes decisions, we go with them not matter what it is."

The offense responded with perhaps its drive of the season. The Packers squibbed the ensuing kickoff and Stefan Logan returned it only to the 14.

The Steelers overcame two penalties with the help of three infractions by the Green Bay secondary. Roethlisberger also threw a 32-yard completion to Santonio Holmes on fourth-and-seven from the Pittsburgh 22, and a 20-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller on third-and-14 from the Pittsburgh 44.

Then, with the ball at the Green Bay 19 with 24 seconds left, things really got interesting.

Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Wallace on first down, then overthrew Hines Ward in the end zone on second down. Only three seconds remained.

On third down, Wallace was matched one-on-one on the left side of the formation with cornerback Josh Bell. At the snap, much of Green Bay's attention shifted to Ward, Holmes and Miller. Roethlisberger fired the ball toward Wallace, who was jostling with Bell along the sideline in the end zone.

Wallace, who had gotten stitches in his knee earlier in the second half, reached out of bounds, snatched the ball out of the air and kept both feet on the ground while falling.

"I knew that he was hurt and banged up," said Roethlisberger. "But I told him, 'Listen, it's time for you to make a play.' If I'm coming to you, it's time to grow up and do this."

Wallace grew up in a big way.

"Once I caught the ball, I knew I was in," said Wallace. "I had no doubt in my mind I was in. It was just making sure I held onto the ball. I knew he couldn't overturn it because I dragged my feet. We practice that every day."

The TD pass was Roethlisberger's third of the game. Pittsburgh also got a rushing touchdown from Rashard Mendenhall.

Odds and end zones

Roethlisberger broke the team record of 473 passing yards by Tommy Maddox during a 34-34 tie against Atlanta in 2002. ... Roethlisberger has a team-record 302 completions, breaking Maddox's mark set in 2003. ... Ward, who had seven receptions for 126 yards, tied John Stallworth for first in team history with his 25 career 100-yard games. ... Long-snapper Greg Warren suffered a torn knee ligament on the game's final play, a game-winning extra-point by Reed.