By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — What a difference 10 days made for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After scoring just six points and no touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns and their league-worst defense, the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for a team-record 503 yards to out-gun the Green Bay Packers and their second-ranked defense 37-36 Sunday night at Heinz Field.
In a game that lasted 3 hours, 38 minutes, Roethlisberger needed every second to find rookie wideout Mike Wallace at the side of the end zone for the winning score as time expired. But the Steelers’ playoff hopes are not dead yet.
“I yelled at him the play before that because I thought he quit on the play,” Roethlisberger said. “So, I kind of chewed him out. I thought that he could have peeled out and went for a touchdown the play before.
“I know he’s kind of hurt and banged up and tired, but I told him that it was time to grow up. If I’m going to come to you, I’m coming to you, and it’s time to make a play. … So, I came to him, and he made a spectacular catch.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted that his team is on life-support to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, so Roethlisberger came up with the clutch performance that was needed. And while Wallace has not made many plays in recent games, “he didn’t play like a rookie today, and that’s what was needed.” Tomlin said.
“Everyone knows that you hit that rookie wall, but for him to do what he did today at this late stage of the season is really pleasing,” Roethlisberger said. “But you have to realize that he just had an OK game. He had a touchdown at the beginning and the one at the end, but he also had a drop in there.
“And because he’s been hurt, he kind of gave up on some plays, too. So, I chewed him out, but he responded and fought all the way to the end. That was a veteran, Pro Bowl-caliber catch that he made. A Super Bowl MVP-type catch. So, I just told him I was really proud of him the way that he bounced back. I feel like he really grew up today after what happened on those last two plays.”
Wallace believed it would come down to a receiver making a catch to win the game, but he didn’t envision himself making it. When Roethlisberger’s pass reached the end zone, however, Wallace did all he could to stay in bounds.
“Making the catch wasn’t the tough part,” Wallace said. “I just tried to keep my feet in bounds. When the ball’s thrown that perfect, it’s not really hard to make that catch. … I watched the Super Bowl last year and saw Santonio make the winning catch. Mine wasn’t as significant, but it was pretty good.”
Wallace didn’t give himself enough credit. As Tomlin said, the Steelers were on life-support. They beat NFL-playoff teams Minnesota, Green Bay and San Diego, but lost to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland — three of the best and three of the worst teams — but Wallace’s tightrope grab rejuvenated them a bit.
Sure, their playoff hopes are still slim with numerous factors involved. But there is still some hope left, and that’s why the Steelers drove 86 yards in 12 plays and 2:06 to beat the Packers. Losses to three NFL weaklings and five straight defeats didn’t beat the fight out of them just yet.
Roethlisberger said he knows why that’s the case.
“That’s just the veteran leadership that we have,” Roethlisberger said. “I could see Hines walking back to the huddle and looking dead tired. But when he gets to the huddle, he turns that off and is ready to go.
“The same thing with Santonio (Holmes). The linemen, I always try to be up-beat and tell those guys that everything’s all right. So, we have some great leaders here, and we never quit. That’s kind of a Pittsburgh mentality that we won’t quit no matter what.
“It was big to get the win, but I think it was bigger to get it the way we did,” Roethlisberger added. “Sure, it would be nice to blow a team out, but to win it like that shows a lot of heart and opens up something inside of all of us that says this team never quits. It never backs down, and it fights to the end.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the Steelers “threw everything at us” and “didn’t hold anything back” on offense. “I thought they called an extremely aggressive game on their part,” he added.
Tomlin hasn’t coached that way until now, but desperation will do that to a team and its head coach. Sure, the Steelers aren’t dead yet, as Tomlin put it, but their breathing is still a little thready.
“The guys hung together, fought (and) made enough plays to win,” Tomlin said. “We haven’t won in a while, so it feels good. To keep it in perspective, we’ve got a little pulse here. Hopefully, we can use this as momentum to get ready to play Baltimore next week, which is, of course, a very warm football team.”
But the Steelers need to find a way to be just a little warmer.