New Castle News

December 23, 2013

Steve Treu: Steelers up the ante at the end of lackluster season

Steve Treu
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — That was worth it.

No matter what happens next weekend, that was worth it.

Yesterday’s high-fiving, head-scratching, jaw-dropping, curse-inducing, postseason death-defying 38-31 victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Green Bay Packers made this otherwise forgettable 2013 season at least somewhat memorable.

First of all, the NFL should schedule a game between these teams every season. The last time they met during the regular season was the classic 37-36 Pittsburgh win four years ago at Heinz Field. (And, you may recall, the next season Green Bay edged the Steelers 31-25 in a thrilling Super Bowl XLV.)

Superb drama each time these proud franchises meet.

What transpired on the field yesterday was more of the same.

The Steelers demonstrated all of the panache of a playoff team by pulling out this win, coming from behind and overcoming one of the most hideous officiating decisions in the history of the league.

Prior to that crazy ruling on the blocked field goal, there were two rules that stood out as clearly unfair: 

*The Tuck Rule, when an obvious fumble is instead declared an incomplete pass (i.e. launching Tom Brady’s career)

*The Touchback Rule, when a player fumbles the ball out of the end zone … and the other team gets the ball on the 20. What? Maybe put it on the 1, but if they didn’t recover it, why give them the 20?

If there is any clear logic to those rules, it goes way over my head like a Brandon Weeden deep ball.

What happened midway through the third quarter at Lambeau Field also defies explanation.

Nursing a 17-14 lead, the Steelers blocked a field goal and Ryan Clark scooped it up. Inexplicably he tried to lateral it, but it was fumbled by William Gay, at which point Ziggy Hood inexplicably batted it forward out of bounds.

Inexplicably, the Packers got a first down out of that mess.

Whatever for? 

It was fourth down, the Packers didn’t recover the ball, the Steelers actually maintained possession (by Clark, whose knee was down before the lateral) for a moment, and the ball never reached the line to gain anyway. Obviously Hood should have been flagged for illegally advancing the ball, but if anything, it should have been a penalty against the Steelers on the return.

Perhaps the ruling makes sense to some official somewhere in the league office, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. That looked like a blocked field goal, it sounded like a blocked field goal, it was a blocked field goal.

Alas, the ensuing touchdown scored by Green Bay only set up a supremely dramatic final 20 minutes of action.

There was Le’Veon Bell’s leap, as he hurdled a defender on a 25-yard gain during the ensuing drive. Bell rambled for 124 yards, the first Pittsburgh running back to go over 100 in 23 games.

There was a Matt Spaeth sighting, Cortez Allen’s pick-6 and A.J. Hawk’s athletic interception to give Green Bay life again to start the fourth quarter. (Did we mention that earlier in the game the Steelers pulled off a successful fake punt?)

Then there was the diving strip of Matt Flynn by Troy Polamalu, who has managed to produce one of his finest years at age 32. Brett Keisel’s fumble recovery put the Steelers in the red zone with less than two minutes left.

As if all that weren’t interesting enough, then things got really interesting.

After Green Bay jumped offsides on a field-goal attempt to give Pittsburgh a first down, the Steelers had the ball on the 1 with 1:28 remaining. It was second down. Green Bay was out of timeouts in a tie game. All the Steelers had to do was take a knee twice and the clock would run down to just a few ticks left and Shaun Suisham could trot out for a chip shot field goal to win it.

Green Bay seemed to be thinking that way, so they appeared to let Bell score a touchdown, giving the Packers plenty of time to go for a tying touchdown.

Alas, a 70-yard kickoff return later they were in position to do just that, but their braintrust had a brain cramp as well.

Green Bay had the ball on the Pittsburgh 6, second down, 10 seconds to go. A penalty had temporarily stopped the clock, but it was about to resume winding down once the refs set the ball. The Packers had plenty of time on the sideline to discuss the situation, which clearly called for a spike. 

Instead, they let the clock run down, took several seconds to get the play off and, by the time Flynn threw incomplete in the end zone, the game was over.

And incredibly, Pittsburgh’s season is not over.

One week to go and the Steelers are still alive. What seemed to be an impossibility 24 hours ago — a playoff berth — now is at least on the radar, as most everything broke their way yesterday.

All they need is four games next Sunday to go their way: a Baltimore loss in playoff-bound Cincinnati, a San Diego loss to playoff-bound Kansas City, a Miami loss at home to the New York Jets and, of course, the Steelers have to take care of business against Cleveland at Heinz Field.

Running that table isn’t likely, but at least it gives Steelers fans something to root for in Week 17. (Recall 1989, anyone?)

And that possibility alone makes this season at least somewhat memorable.

(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)