GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers slogged through sloppy turf and braved a light, persistent snow in a down-to-the-wire game with playoff implications for both teams.
In the end, the Steelers held on for a 38-31 win and both squads got a little help to keep their postseason aspirations alive.
Troy Polamalu forced a fumble to set up Le’Veon Bell’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:28 left, then Pittsburgh withstood Green Bay’s throw into the end zone on the game’s last play. They’re a long shot, but the Steelers (7-8), after starting 0-4 this season, are mathematically in the hunt for an AFC wild-card spot.
It would be a near-miracle if they can get through another week. The Steelers need to beat the Browns in Week 17, and have the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers — all 8-7 — all lose.
“There’s only one way to respond to the situation that we’re in,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “There’s either (win) or fold the tents up, and we’re not into that.”
The Packers (7-7-1) had a two-game winning streak snapped, but still have shot at winning the NFC North after the Bears lost 54-11 to the Eagles on Sunday night.
Chicago and Green Bay meet next week at Soldier Field for the division crown.
Five things to know after the wild game in the wintry conditions at Lambeau Field:
BIG PLAY TROY: Long hair flowing out from under of his helmet, Polamalu lunged through the air as Packers quarterback Matt Flynn tried to scramble for a first down. Polamalu knocked the ball loose, the Steelers recovered at the 17 and Bell ran in from 1 yard out five plays later to give the Steelers the go-ahead score.
Sound familiar? Polamalu came up with his fifth forced fumble of the season.
“I think you always think about trying to do something to secure the tackle,” he said. “Fortunately, sometimes it works and, unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work and you end up missing tackles.”
NOW BATTING: A rarely seen penalty nearly spoiled the Steelers’ night.
Defensive lineman Ziggy Hood was called for illegal batting in the third quarter when he poked the ball out of bounds after it had been loose following a blocked field goal.
Officials conferred a few minutes before calling the penalty and awarding the ball to Green Bay, ruling the Steelers never controlled it and that it never crossed the line of scrimmage at the Steelers 5.
Referee Carl Cheffers described batting to a pool reporter as an intentional act of striking the ball in a loose-ball situation in the direction of a team’s own goal line.
The Packers got a second chance and Eddie Lacy scored on the next play to give Green Bay a short-lived lead.
ROOKIE RBS: Bell finished with 26 carries for 124 yards, while fellow rookie Lacy had 15 carries for 84 yards and two scores but later left after re-aggravating an ankle injury.
Lacy vowed to return for the Bears game. He set a franchise rookie record with 1,112 yards rushing on the year.
“Had we won it would feel a little better,” Lacy said.
PICK SIX: The Packers seemed to be picking on Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen for spurts, and Jarrett Boykin’s 5-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter came after jumping and leaning forward around Allen for the grab.
But Allen atoned for any mistakes by intercepting a screen and running untouched 40 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Allen finished with six tackles in his third straight start at left cornerback after replacing William Gay.
MEDICAL REPORT: The injury list got longer for two battered teams.
Besides Lacy, the Packers linebacker Clay Matthews left following a sack after re-aggravating a right thumb injury that kept him out of four games earlier this season. Matthews had surgery on the thumb and he appeared to be in considerable pain on the sideline.
For the Steelers, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones was a late scratch because of the flu, while receiver Emmanuel Sanders had a 1-yard touchdown catch before leaving with a knee injury.
Online: AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP