Packers miss final throw, lose 38-31 to Steelers

Packers still have one more chance at division title

Too many mistakes, not enough time.

Not even a rarely seen officiating call that broke the Packers’ way could save Green Bay on Sunday.

After surviving the previous two weeks on fourth-quarter comebacks, the Packers ran out of late-game heroics in a 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at snowy Lambeau Field.

The Steelers’ flickering playoff hopes remain alive. The loss meant Green Bay (7-7-1) needed Chicago to lose at Philadelphia on Sunday night to stay in the NFC North race.

“I’m not into drama,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We wanted to control our own destiny, we let that opportunity out of our hands.”

The Packers were back in control by night’s end. The Bears lost 54-11, turning next week’s matchup with Green Bay into a showdown for the NFC North title at Soldier Field.

Le’Veon Bell ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:28 left, five plays after safety Troy Polamalu forced a scrambling Matt Flynn to fumble at the 17.

Micah Hyde’s 70-yard kickoff return to the Steelers 31 gave the Packers one last chance. Green Bay got to the 1, but after a Packers penalty the game ended when Flynn’s pass to Jarrett Boykin sailed incomplete in the end zone.

After coming back from 23 points down at halftime the previous week to beat the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers were on the wrong end of late-game rally.

“It’s hard. It’s a tough one to swallow,” Flynn said.

The last few seconds were marred by a false start penalty that pushed the Packers back to the 6 and included a 10-second runoff seconds to 10 seconds. The Packers didn’t get the snap off until 3 seconds, and Flynn said it appeared the umpire was holding up the center but started the clock while backing up.

“I don’t know what happened, really,” Flynn said. “The operation seemed kind of weird right there,” Flynn said.

Just like the rest of the second half.

Cornerback Cortez Allen returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dashed through the snow for a 13-yard score in the third quarter for Pittsburgh (7-8).

But a rarely seen illegal batting call nearly spoiled the Steelers’ night.

After Steve McClendon blocked a short field-goal attempt, a scramble ensued and the jostled ball ended up near the sideline, where Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood poked it out of bounds. After conferring for a few minutes, the officials penalized Hood and gave possession back to Green Bay, ruling the Steelers never controlled the ball after the block and that it never crossed the line of scrimmage of the Steelers 5.

Safety Ryan Clark said he could have picked up the ball, but he was slowed after spraining his ankle in the game and tried to lateral the ball, but it squirted free and eventually got to Hood.

One play after the confusion, running back Eddie Lacy barreled into the end zone from 2 yards for a 21-17 lead at 5:19 of the third.

Instead of sulking, the Steelers answered quickly. They stayed in the playoff chase, even though they still need a lot of help next week.

“It’s irrelevant, to be honest,” Polamalu said. “Our mental approach to the game has got to be a week-by-week thing.”

Ben Roethlisberger found Matt Spaeth for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes left in the third. Fourteen seconds later, Allen made his leaping interception and ran untouched into the end zone with 1:37 in the third quarter for a 31-21 lead.

The Packers roared back with a 22-yard field goal by Mason Crosby before John Kuhn’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:17 left tied the game at 31.

But the Steelers finally finished things off in a nail-biting last few seconds.

“It’s human error in this game,” Clark said about the illegal batting call. “The guy didn’t see it, he didn’t have the opportunity to know if I had possession, so he made the call that he saw and that’s part of football. It’s no big deal, we won.”

Bell ended with 26 carries for 124 yards. Lacy had 15 carries for 84 yards and two scores in a game featuring two of the league’s top rookie running backs. Lacy later left re-aggravating an ankle injury.

Flynn finished 21 of 39 for 232 yards and a touchdown making his fourth start in place of injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been out since fracturing his left collarbone on Nov. 4.

Linebacker Clay Matthews also left following a sack apparently re-aggravating a right thumb injury that kept him out of action for four games this year.