What a wild and wacky 2013 season it’s been for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They defeated the Green Bay Packers 38-31 Sunday to remain alive, but still not well, in the race for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
The Steelers (7-8) must beat the Browns at home Sunday and have three other games go their way to make the playoffs, but who would have thought they’d have something to play for in Week 17 after starting the season 0-4?
Who would have thought in 2013 that we’d see a team-record 55 points scored on the Steelers, nine touchdown catches by Jerricho Cotchery, eight sacks by Jason Worilds, controversy over Mike Tomlin’s foot and heartbreak over Antonio Brown’s foot?
And a partridge in a pear tree?
The craziness of the Steelers’ season was, well, packed into a single afternoon at Lambeau Field.
And then some.
There was the first career 100-yard rushing game for rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, capped by his game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 1:28 left.
Green Bay had no timeouts, so even the leaky Steelers defense figured to have a fighting chance to hold a seven-point lead and close out the game.
Then Micah Hyde returned the kickoff to the Steelers’ 31.
Great. Just great.
The Packers reached the 1-yard line before a false start and an incomplete pass ended the game and gave the Steelers their first win outside the Eastern Time Zone in more than two years.
Part of the reason the Steelers are still fighting for a playoff spot is because Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked just six times in the last six games. He was sacked once Sunday, and that sack was more costly for the Packers than it was for the Steelers.
Clay Matthews re-aggravated a thumb injury while sacking Roethlisberger in the second quarter, according to Pro Football Talk, and didn’t return to the game.
The this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you sack was the first sign of the many twists and turns to come.
The Steelers showed some, ahem, sack early in the third quarter. Trailing 14-10 and forced to punt from their own 44, they went for a fake. Mat McBriar threw a 30-yard pass to David Paulson (remember him?). On the next play, Roethlisberger ran it in 13 yards for the touchdown and a 17-14 Steelers lead.
The Packers punted on their next possession and pinned the Steelers at their own 2-yard line. Bell fumbled on the next play.
A running back coughing up the ball at the worst possible time against the Packers, where have the Steelers seen that before?
It looked like Bell would receive a Get Out of Jail Free card when the Steelers forced the Packers to try a field goal, and then blocked said field goal.
However, Ziggy Hood was penalized for illegally batting the ball out of bounds, even though the play appeared dead when Ryan Clark had possession with his knee on the ground.
The penalty gave the ball back to the Packers and Eddie Lacy, drafted 13 spots after Bell in April, scored his second touchdown from 2 yards out to give the Packers a 21-17 lead.
After being hosed by Carl Cheffers and his band of bungling officials, it was time for the Steelers to turn to another backup tight end.
Playing in his third game since coming off the injured-reserve-designated-to-return-list, Matt Spaeth caught his first pass as a Steeler since the last time they played the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. This one wouldn’t be in vain, though. It was an 11-yard reception for a touchdown, Spaeth’s first touchdown in black and gold in three years and three days.
Then Cortez Allen finally delivered on the ballhawking promise he showed in the last two games of 2012. His 40-yard pick-six of Matt Flynn on the first play of the Packers’ next possession widened the Steelers’ lead to 31-21 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
Allen led the Steelers to believe that Keenan Lewis was expendable when he intercepted two passes and forced three fumbles in the final two games of 2012. Now all he has to do is play like that in the first 14 games of a season.
Roethlisberger threw an interception to A.J. Hawk, sparking a Packers rally that tied the game 31-31 midway through the fourth quarter. But the Steelers seemed to be in prime position to work the clock and try a field goal in the final seconds, especially after Roethlisberger threw a 28-yard pass to Antonio Brown that moved the ball to the Steelers’ 39 with 6:26 left.
Brown caught six passes for 105 yards and set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season with 1,412, surpassing Yancey Thigpen’s 1,398 yards in 1997.
Brown has 101 catches this year. Paulson, Speath and Will Johnson have combined for 15, but if it weren’t for that trio, the Steelers would be heading home for a meaningless season finale.
This game’s next head-scratching moment came when the Steelers went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 48 with just under five minutes left. Roethlisberger threw a 6-yard pass to Johnson to keep the drive going.
The Steelers eventually had to punt anyway, but pinned the Packers at their own 8.
Then 35-year-old Brett Keisel all of a sudden looked like a guy who doesn’t want to end his career quietly. He sacked Flynn for a 3-yard loss and recovered a fumble forced by Troy Polamalu at the Packers 17.
Just when it looked like the Steelers would have to settle for a field goal with 1:35 left, plenty of time for the Packers to at least tie the game, the officials showed that they didn’t have cheeseheads stashed in their lockers after all. Nick Perry was whistled for an offsides penalty on the field-goal attempt, giving the Steelers a first down.
That set up Bell’s deciding touchdown on a day when he out-shined the running back the Steelers passed on to take him, even if Lacy is a rookie-of-the-year candidate. Bell ran for 124 yards on 26 carries. Lacy had 84 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, but was injured late in the third quarter and didn’t return.
The Steelers caught a break there, and they still need a lot of breaks to go their way to make the playoffs.
But stranger things have happened this season.