Dec 22, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen (28) returns an interception for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers: Santa Comes Early in Game-Deciding Moments vs. Packers

Dec 22, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (99) reacts after the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers 38-31 at Lambeau Field. Keisel recovered a fumble late in the 4th quarter to help set up the winning score. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When the schedule makers lined up the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers for Week 16, they likely forecasted a snowy ratings booster between two consistent playoff contenders. They were right about the weather and great game, but only a granted wish from a Christmas angel would get either of these teams to the playoffs.

The Steelers playoff hopes relied on losses by Baltimore and Miami as well as a win by the New York Jets. With those gifts marked off the list, the Steelers needed to deliver a strong second half to complete their Week 16 wish list. Five second half lead changes later, the Steelers held on to win 38-31 in a thrilling holiday special.

Things are looking up for Todd Haley’s future in Pittsburgh

The Steelers offense stuck up for an injured (and subsequently inexperienced) defense to score four touchdowns and a field goal in Green Bay. Perhaps no player’s story had more highs and one unfortunate low than the rookie running backs, 2013 NFL draft pick No. 61 Eddie Lacy vs. pick No. 48 Le’Veon Bell.

Bell got his wish with his first 100-yard rushing game. He split his 124 rushing yards nearly evenly between the first and second half. Lacy had 85 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was gift-wrapped after a fumble by Bell on the Steelers 2. Bell didn’t, however, allow the mistake to ruin his opening chapter vs. Lacy. The following possession, Bell came out fired up, driving the Steelers with a 25-yard leap over the Packers defense.

Bell’s run and a rare “gimme” from the referees gave the Steelers a little help and the lead. Center Cody Wallace’s jab to B.J. Raji‘s face sparked a personal foul on the retaliating Raji, keeping the Steelers’ drive alive. Jon Dwyer helped out by gaining first down on another off-the-mark toss by Roethlisberger. Ben had no issues throwing to 6-foot-7 Matt Spaeth for his first touchdown since returning to Pittsburgh, making it 24-21. Perhaps general manager Kevin Colbert is looking a bit smarter than he did at the start of 2013.

The next touchdown pass was by the Steelers defense. Cortez Allen intercepted an errant pass by Flynn, taking it back 40 yards for the score.

Lacy Done Early

On the following Packer possession, Stevenson Sylvester ended Lacy’s night and quite likely his season. He jammed Lacy into the ground, sending him to the bench with the second ankle injury of his young career.

Roethlisberger’s next set of downs turned out to be a big downer for the Steelers offense. Staring at a calming 31-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw linebacker A.J. Hawk a present. The Steelers defense allowed just a field goal, but the Packers had cut the lead to 31-24.

Time Management Debate

The Steelers offense scored one more touchdown after they capitalized on a forced fumble by Polamalu, as well as another costly Packers penalty. The encroachment during Shaun Suisham‘s field goal attempt morphed into seven points by Bell. Steelers went on top and stayed there this time, 38-31. Many criticize Tomlin for his lack of time management in giving the ball back to Green Bay with 1:25 left to score in regulation, yet Tomlin had plenty reason to avoid draining the time clock to settle on a field goal.

The Steelers had already blocked a short field goal earlier in the game and given the Steelers’ flair for the dramatic special teams game-ender, a touchdown was the right move. More on those “special” teams later.

Explore today’s Steelers Report Card from Matt Shetler.

Tags: Ben Roethlisberger Le'Veon Bell Mike Tomlin Pittsburgh Steelers

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