Wow. SO MUCH WENT ON in this insane game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Hopefully this post won't go over 10,000 words, but I can't make any promises.
Where do I even begin? The Steelers did what they had to do by winning, and they're still in playoff contention... barely. But come on, starting at 0-4, it's pretty amazing that they're still in playoff contention at all coming into the final week of regular season football.
Anyway, Green Bay kicked things off in the first quarter, with quarterback Matt Flynn in for an injured Aaron Rodgers, who missed his seventh consecutive game. Flynn marched his team down the field for 13 plays and 87 yards, culminating the drive with a 5-yard TD pass to Jarrett Boykin. D'oh.
The Steelers struck back in their next drive, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connecting with receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a short 1-yard TD pass. So that's how the first quarter ended. Don't worry, things get a little more insane later on.
After a beautiful sack by Jason Worilds at the start of the second quarter, quite a few punts were exchanged. With minutes left in the second quarter, rookie Eddie Lacy, who had a very productive game, ran in for a 14-yard touchdown. The Steelers again responded, but with a 31-yard field goal, set up by Emmanuel Sanders, who returned the kickoff 46 yards, and the score was 14-10 at the end of the first half.
It was the third quarter that was certainly one for the ages.
To set up a Roethlisberger touchdown run up middle for 13 yards (I know, that in and of itself is bizarre), there was a 30-yard PASS by punter Mat McBriar on fourth down to set it all up. After he lofted the ball into the air, I was wide-eyed, busy cursing about how stupid of a play that was. But of course the ball was caught and it was brilliant. The Packers were also penalized another 15 yards for roughing McBriar after he threw it. So then it was 17-14 Steelers.
The Packers were forced to punt on their next possession, putting the Steelers at the 2. Le'Veon Bell, who had his first 100-yard game, fumbled the ball and the Packers recovered it at the 3. The defense stepped up and the Packers set up for a 23-yard field goal by Steve McLendon. It looked like the Steelers were able to block the kick, and Ryan Clark recovered it. The ball rolled out of bounds at the 5. There was quite a bit of freaking out... until a flag was thrown. For whatever reason, instead of falling on it, Clark tried to lateral the ball. Then Ziggy Hood batted it out of play. Because there was no official change of possession (even though Clark clearly had possession, grabbing the ball with his knee down), Hood was penalized for illegally batting it forward, giving the Packers a first down. WTF WTF WTF. Coach Mike Tomlin was livid. The play wasn't reviewable and the Packers ended up with better field position. Lacy proceeded to run in from the 2-yard line on the next play to give the Packers a 21-17 lead. So very, very bizarre.
After we collectively picked our jaws up from the floor, on the next series, Big Ben connected with Matt Spaeth for an 11-yard touchdown after going six plays for 68 yards. It was helped by a nice 25-yard run by Bell and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Green Bay. It gave the Steelers a 24-21 lead and, at this point, I was already exhausted from all the feelings I was feeling in such a short time span.
THEN, if you haven't fallen asleep yet reading all this, Flynn's pass intended for Boykin was intercepted by Cortez Allen. He ran down the field 40 yards for a touchdown. Finally. Always great to see the Steelers create an interception -- it happens so freakin 'rarely. Suddenly, after all was said and done, the Steelers were up by 10.
Of course they quickly were able to blow the lead. To end the quarter, Roethlisberger threw a pass intended for Heath Miller, which was intercepted by A.J. Hawk. Mason Crosby nailed a 22-yard field goal and made the Steelers pay for the turnover.
The Steelers were able to do jack shit with their next possession. When Lacy got injured, John Kuhn stepped up, and after a six-play, 58-yard drive, he ran in for a 1-yard touchdown. Tied game, just like that.
But the defense stepped up yet again with mere minutes left in the game. Flynn was running with the ball when Troy Polamalu tackled him, causing him to fumble it. It was recovered by Brett Keisel, THE BEARD, at Green Bay's 17. We sure missed you, Brett! Best damn beard in the league. The defense certainly stepped up in this game when it counted.
When the Steelers were setting up for a field goal, the Packers were called for encroachment, giving the Steelers the yards they needed for a first down. The Packers ended up paying for it when Bell ran right into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:28 left. To break the tie, the Steelers were up 38-31.
The joy was short-lived. Micah Hyde returned the ball a solid 70 yards and ended up at the Steelers' 31. They were able to drive up all the way to the 1, but after a false start penalty and an incomplete pass to Boykin, the Packers simply ran out of time. And the Steelers won the game.
After everything that went down, with one regular season game left, the Steelers are 7-8 and still in playoff contention. The Steelers needed the Jets to win, the Ravens to lose, and the Dolphins to lose, and all of that happened. And kudos to the Steelers for overcoming that extremely weird batting penalty and staying tough after all the lead changes and bizarre plays. Ben ended the day going 16 for 28 and 167 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Flynn, to whom you've gotta give a lot of credit, went 21 for 39 for 232 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Congrats to Bell who ended the day with 124 yards -- he was determined to have his first 100-yard game at Lambeau and more than made up for his fumble -- and Lacy proved he's legit running 15 times for 84 yards. Antonio Brown also had set a new franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season, with 1,412 yards. Wow!
What a game. What a win. So glad they were able to pull it off after the refs essentially gave the Packers seven points. Of course lots of calls go the Steelers' way too, but that was one of the most mind-blowing I've seen recently. And I've said it before and I'll say it again -- it's pretty amazing, regardless of the statistical long shot for them to actually get in, that the Steelers are 7-8 and still have a shot. We can only hope we end the season 8-8 and getting some pride back after such a disappointing start. This game certainly helped them carve the way to redeeming themselves. If only we could get those losses from Baltimore and Miami back...
Oh well. Luckily the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns next week and the game should hopefully not be this exciting. The Packers are still in playoff contention too. Always a fun time of year to see teams playing for their postseason lives, and even though the Steelers will most likely not make it, this game is one I will not soon forget.
Hope you all take a moment to celebrate this early Christmas gift! Happy holidays and enjoy this time with your loved ones.