Playoff hopes flicker

Pittsburgh clings to faint playoff hopes after its entertaining 37-36 victory against Green Bay on Sunday, but the Steelers need a lot of help.

They must win their final two games -- against Baltimore this Sunday at Heinz Field and then at Miami on Jan. 3 -- to finish 9-7. A loss in either game and they are done.

"For us, our focus is just next game, next opponent, and making sure you win," tackle Max Starks said. "Winning usually takes care of everything."

It may not be enough in this instance, however. Other teams have the tiebreaker edge over them when it comes to conference record: The Jaguars (6-4) and Jets (5-5) each trump the Steelers (4-6) there. But if those two teams falter one time each, a likely scenario, a tiebreaker would not matter if the Steelers win both.

"Opportunity is still there to get in the playoffs," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.

Baltimore also would beat Pittsburgh at 9-7 based on division record, so even if the Steelers beat the Ravens on Sunday, they could fall short. But the Steelers have more favorable tiebreakers against Tennessee and Houston, two other 7-7 teams.

What the Steelers need is a three-way tie with Baltimore and Denver at 9-7, a more likely scenario as well. In that case, the Steelers and Ravens would advance to the playoffs, and the Broncos would stay home.

The Steelers were both relieved to end their five-game losing streak Sunday and delighted to remain alive for a playoff spot, even if their hopes are slim. They had no time to look behind at their atrocious losses to the likes of Cleveland and Kansas City.

"All you can do is thank the Lord, bury the dead and keep moving," tackle Willie Colon said.


* The Steelers' 37-36 victory over Green Bay was the first such score in NFL history. Last season, the Steelers posted the first 11-10 score in a victory against San Diego. * The Steelers have gone 32 games in the regular season without allowing an individual 100-yard rusher, 36 games counting the postseason. * The Steelers have not lost a home game to a team from the NFC North since a loss to Minnesota in 1995, eight straight.


* RB Rashard Mendenhall, adding third-down duties, had more yards receiving Sunday (73 on six catches) than rushing (38 on 11 carries). He looks like a good fit in that role. * QB Dennis Dixon again served as Ben Roethlisberger's backup with Charlie Batch as the No. 3 quarterback. It should remain that way for the rest of the season. * LB LaMarr Woodley was credited with half a sack, but that could be changed to a full sack by the Elias Sports Bureau. If so, he and James Harrison would be tied for the team lead with 10 each. * QB Ben Roethlisberger engineered his 19th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. * WR Mike Wallace caught touchdown passes on the Steelers' first and last play Sunday, his first two-score game.


PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Ben Roethlisberger became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 500 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. His 503 yards rank 10th in NFL history, tops in Steelers history, and they needed every one of them. The only negative came in his five sacks. He completed 29 of 46, and his passer rating was 121.9.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Pittsburgh did not run much against one of the NFL's best run defenses, trying 19 times for 65 yards. Rashard Mendenhall ran 11 times for 38 yards, but he did have one important run, a 2-yard touchdown. Mendenhall also caught six passes for 73 yards, and Mewelde Moore took a short pass 10 yards for a touchdown.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- There was little to like once again for a pass defense that has crumbled. Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 48 for three touchdowns. He wasn't intercepted, and the most-sacked QB in the league remained relatively upright, sacked just once. His rating was 101.3.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- It's hard to imagine a defense playing more poorly when the opponent managed only 60 yards rushing, but the Packers ran just 12 times and scored on two of those -- a 24-yard run by Ryan Grant (who was never touched) and a 14-yard scramble by Rodgers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C --- An onside kick failed when Ike Taylor touched the ball too early, and a pooch kick came up short. There were no returns of note on either side, and the Packers did miss their only field-goal try, from 34 yards, although due to no particular credit of the Steelers. The Packers converted a two-point try. K Jeff Reed was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts.

COACHING: C -- Bruce Arians, under fire as the offensive coordinator, put all his faith in Roethlisberger, and the quarterback came through. He added some screen passes, and those worked well to Mendenhall and Moore. Mike Tomlin made a bold move with an onside kick, his team up by two with four minutes left. It failed, but it might have worked. He did not want the Packers to chew up clock on a long field and kick a winning field goal with little time left. Green Bay instead scored quickly, and the Steelers had just enough time to pull it out. Something's seriously wrong on defense, but the Steelers continue to go with the same personnel.

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