Aaron Rodgers' career-defining comeback went up and smoke.
Ben Roethlisberger's 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on the final play of the game sent the Pittsburgh Steelers to a remarkable 37-36 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
The defending Super Bowl champions snapped a five-game losing streak and kept their season alive. The Packers had their five-game winning streak snapped, and their playoff dreams will have to wait for at least another week.
The Steelers moved the ball 81 yards in the final 2:01 to steal the victory. Roethlisberger, who threw for a career-high 503 yards against the NFL's second-ranked defense, converted a fourth-and-7 with a 32-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, a third-and-15 with a 20-yard completion to Heath Miller. The final play came on third-and-10.
The Packers — their pass rushers gassed — sent Johnny Jolly, Brady Poppinga and Jarius Wynn after Roethlisberger on the last play. Roethlisberger had time and threw a pinpoint-perfect pass to Wallace at the sideline against the close coverage of sixth defensive back Josh Bell.
Three defensive penalties led to first downs, and Roethlisberger slipped a sack by Cullen Jenkins and threw incomplete with 3 seconds remaining.
Green Bay never led until a lost-in-the-game-plan Ryan Grant scored on a 24-yard run, making it 28-27 with 7:49 remaining. The Steelers answered with a 43-yard field goal, then inexplicably called for an onside kick. The Steelers recovered before the kick traveled 10 yards, giving Green Bay the ball at the 39 with 3:58 to go. On third-and-14, Rodgers hit James Jones for a 24-yard score, giving the Packers a 36-30 lead with 2:06 to play.
Rodgers passed for 383 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 22 yards and another score.
The Packers are 9-5 and tied with Dallas for the top wild-card spot in the NFC. The Giants are 7-6 and play at Washington on Monday.
Mike Wallace catches the winning touchdown
Gene Puskar/AP Images
Aaron Rodgers was sensational by guiding three consecutive touchdown drives to end the game, but Ben Roethlisberger became just the 10th quarterback since 1950 to throw for 500 yards. Pro Football Hall of Famers Y.A. Tittle (1962) and Warren Moon (1990) are the only other quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Three: The number of first downs the Steelers gained by penalty during the winning drive. The big one was an illegal-contact penalty on linebacker Brandon Chillar, whose deflection led to an interception by Jarrett Bush.
"Losses are difficult," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Losses in December are probably a little more important. This is a game that we had a lot of confidence coming into it. We knew we had to score some points today from the offensive side of it. I don't think we thought it would go that way as far as the aggressiveness and the passing game against our defense. We came up one play short and we'll correct it tomorrow. I'm sure there will be a number of opportunities that we could have 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."
The other things you need to know
— The Packers replaced Matt Flynn with punter Jeremy Kapinos as the holder for kicker Mason Crosby, with coach Mike McCarthy calling it a "confidence approach." It didn't work. Crosby misfired on a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter. Earlier, Kapinos dropped a snap on an extra point, which Crosby managed to boot through the uprights.
"It's unfortunate," Crosby said. "A week of work is not doing it. It's just popping up in games, and it's something that if I'm fortunate enough to keep being here, I've got to go to work. I have to get back after it in Seattle, and if we're going to make a run here I have to make some kicks."
In his last four games, Crosby has missed from 43, 38, 42 and 34 yards.
"Mason needs to make the kick," McCarthy said. "He missed the kick. He's missed kicks in the past. He needs to make the kick. Yeah, it would have been nice to have those three points, but I'm sure if you go through the defense there were opportunities, a play here and a play there, that we needed to make. We were one play short, and I'm sure all three phases will have evidence that needs to be corrected."
— Cornerback Josh Bell, on allowing the winning touchdown: "If I would've reached my hand into the receiver instead of looking back for the ball, or even just forced the receiver out — if I could've lifted one leg, it would've been incomplete."
— Ben Roethlisberger, on throwing for 503 yards: "We needed all 503. When you're out there I'm not even thinking about that. To tell you the truth I'm thinking about the plays that we missed. I missed Hines on one that I felt we could have had a touchdown. I make fun of the receivers for their drops. I could have had 600-yards and they could have had more yards."
— Aaron Rodgers was sacked once, and both he and McCarthy credited center Scott Wells for diagnosing the Steelers' blitzes.
— With the loss, the Vikings wrapped up the NFC North title before stepping on the field at Carolina on Sunday night.
— Running back Ryan Grant (shoulder or stinger), linebacker Nick Barnett (knee), receiver Greg Jennings (ankle) and left tackle Chad Clifton (neck) all returned from injuries.
— Ryan Pickett (hamstring) played sparingly and did not get on the stat sheet.
— The linebackers (Clay Matthews, two; Brad Jones, two; Brady Poppinga, one) recorded all five sacks. Matthews would have had a third sack — along with a strip and recovery — had it not been overruled by replay.
— The Packers' maligned red-zone offense scored on 2-of-3 opportunities.
— Grant (eight) and Brandon Jackson (one) and Rodgers (one) combined for 10 rushing attempts. Rodgers threw the ball 48 times, was sacked once and scrambled twice, for a total of 51 passing attempts.
— Jermichael Finley was thrown the ball 10 times, catching nine of them for 74 yards and a touchdown. Jennings and Donald Driver were targeted 20 times, catching eight for 194 yards and a touchdown.
— The Steelers failed to get a first down just once in 12 possessions against a defense that ranked second overall, second against the run and fourth against the pass.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.