The Pittsburgh Steelers were defending NFL Champions but in danger of missing the postseason as they hosted the Green Bay Packers on December 20, 2009. Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s team got off to a 6-2 start but had lost its last five contests, including a miserable 13-6 game at Cleveland the previous week, and was now at 6-7 and nearly out of playoff contention. With QB Ben Roethlisberger (pictured above) and wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, the passing game was productive but the defense was severely weakened by the loss of SS Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith to injuries.
Green Bay was coached by Mike McCarthy and in contention for the NFC North crown with a 9-4 record. The offense was potent thanks to the passing of QB Aaron Rodgers and the running of RB Ryan Grant. The defense was especially strong at linebacker, where talented rookie Clay Matthews joined a unit that already included Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk, while CB Charles Woodson was the key player in the backfield.
There were 57,452 fans in attendance on a cold late afternoon at Heinz Field. The Packers had the ball first and punted. Pittsburgh set the tone for the game on the next play when Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to WR Mike Wallace for a 60-yard touchdown. Jeff Reed added the extra point to give the Steelers the early 7-0 advantage.
The teams exchanged punts before the Packers came through with a big play. Facing third-and-five at their own 17, Aaron Rodgers went long for WR Greg Jennings and the result was an 83-yard TD. Mason Crosby tied the score with the point after.
The Steelers responded with a nine-play series that covered 72 yards. Roethlisberger completed a pass to Hines Ward for nine yards in a third-and-six situation and a toss to TE Heath Miller for 14 yards was followed by a pass interference penalty on the defense that gained another 17 to the Green Bay 25. Five plays later, RB Rashard Mendenhall ran for a two-yard touchdown, Reed converted, and the home team was back in front by 14-7.
Following two short possessions that resulted in punts, the Packers were on the move as Rodgers threw to WR Donald Driver for a 49-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 24 on the last play of the opening period. However, after reaching the 16, Green Bay had to try for a field goal and Crosby missed from 34 yards.
The teams returned to trading punts before the Packers advanced 52 yards in eight plays. Rodgers completed five of six passes, two of them to Jennings, and then kept the ball himself on a 14-yard run for a TD (pictured below). Crosby knotted the score once more with the extra point.
The Steelers came back with a six-play, 80-yard drive. Roethlisberger completed passes to Miller for 27 yards and Santonio Holmes for 33 and finished the series off with a 10-yard touchdown throw to RB Mewelde Moore. Reed converted and Pittsburgh was ahead by 21-14, which remained the score at the half.
The Steelers had the ball first in the third quarter and Roethlisberger connected with Mendenhall for a 25-yard gain, but the drive stalled at the Green Bay 46 and they punted. The Packers had to punt in turn and Pittsburgh put together another scoring drive. Roethlisberger completed passes to Mendenhall, again for 25 yards, and to Ward for 17 while RB Willie Parker reeled off a pair of nine-yard runs. After getting to the Green Bay 21, Rodgers was sacked for an eight-yard loss by LB Brad Jones and, while a throw to Moore gained 10 yards the Steelers had to settle for a 37-yard Reed field goal that gave them a ten-point lead.
The Packers responded with a long drive of 69 yards in 13 plays that stretched into the fourth quarter. Rodgers completed a pass to Driver for 19 yards in a third-and-16 situation, one of seven completions along the way. The last was to TE Jermichael Finley for 11 yards and a TD. Crosby added the point after and the Pittsburgh lead was cut to 24-21.
Following a 36-yard kickoff return by WR Stefan Logan, Roethlisberger threw to Ward for 29 yards to the Green Bay 34. Another Roethlisberger completion, this time to Miller, gained 12 yards to convert third-and-six but a two-yard run by Parker was followed by two incomplete passes and Reed booted a 34-yard field goal to make it a 27-21 game.
The Packers needed just four plays to advance 62 yards in response. Two throws by Rodgers to Finley totaled 11 yards before a completion to Nelson gained 27. Ryan Grant ran 24 yards for a touchdown and, with Crosby kicking the extra point, the visitors were ahead at 28-27.
On the next series, and facing second-and-18, Roethlisberger passed deep to Ward for a 54-yard gain to the Green Bay 23. The drive stalled but Reed kicked a 43-yard field goal that put the Steelers back in front by 30-28.
Pittsburgh gambled by attempting an onside kick that failed and the Packers took advantage as Rodgers threw to Nelson for nine yards and Finley for 10. Rodgers connected with WR James Jones for a 24-yard TD and then completed a pass to RB Brandon Jackson for a two-point conversion. With 2:12 left on the clock, Green Bay held a 36-30 lead.
The Steelers took possession following the ensuing kickoff at their 14. A defensive holding penalty added five yards, but Roethlisberger was sacked by LB Brady Poppinga for a four-yard loss. A throw to Miller gained seven yards but the next pass was incomplete and Pittsburgh was facing fourth-and-seven at its own 22 with the time remaining down to 1:14. Roethlisberger went deep for Holmes to pick up 32 yards and keep the drive alive. Holding on the offense backed the Steelers up 10 yards but then an interception was negated by an illegal contact call on the Packers. Two more incomplete passes and a false start had the Steelers facing third-and-15 but Roethlisberger connected with Miller for 20 yards to the Green Bay 36. A sack was nullified by defensive holding and Roethlisberger threw to Miller again, this time for 15 yards. Pittsburgh called its last timeout and Roethlisberger had two passes fall incomplete before, on the game’s last play, he found Mike Wallace in the corner of the end zone, who just managed to keep his feet inbounds for a 19-yard touchdown (pictured below). Reed added the all-important extra point and the Steelers won in dramatic fashion by a final score of 37-36.
The teams combined for 973 yards, with Pittsburgh gaining the most (537 to 436) and also leading in first downs (28 to 18) and time of possession (35:22 to 24:38). Neither team gained much on the ground, with the Steelers holding an edge of 65 yards to 60. The Packers recorded five sacks, to one by Pittsburgh, and the Steelers were also penalized 10 times, at a cost of 84 yards, to seven flags for 53 yards thrown on Green Bay. There were no turnovers by either club.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 29 of 46 passes for 503 yards, a new franchise record, with three touchdowns. Hines Ward and Heath Miller had seven catches apiece, for 126 and 118 yards, respectively. Mike Wallace had just two pass receptions, for 79 yards, but both scored TDs, including the game-decider. Rashard Mendenhall contributed 6 catches for 73 yards to go along with a team-leading 38 rushing yards on 11 attempts that included a score.
For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was successful on 26 of 48 throws for 383 yards and three TDs and also added a scoring carry among his three runs for 22 yards. Jermichael Finley caught 9 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown and Greg Jennings gained 118 yards on his five receptions that included a long TD. Ryan Grant ran for 37 yards and a score on 8 carries.
“The guys were coming back to the huddle worn out, linemen, receivers, everybody,” said Ben Roethlisberger regarding the intensity of the winning drive. “We didn’t quit. Everybody believed we could do it.”
“You lose on a last-second play, with a spectacular throw and catch, it’s tough,” said Green Bay LB Clay Matthews. “Hindsight’s always 20-20 but we knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was a dogfight.”
The win was the first of three straight for the Steelers to close out the season, but the resulting 9-7 record placed third in the AFC North and they just missed the playoffs. The loss cost the Packers the NFC North title, clinched by the Vikings as a result, but they also won their remaining two games and their second-place 11-5 tally got them into the postseason as a Wild Card. Green Bay lost a wild 51-45 contest to Arizona in the first playoff round.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 4328 yards and 26 touchdowns, ranking second in the AFC with a 100.5 passer rating. He exceeded the 503 yards against the Packers in a 2014 contest in which he passed for 522 yards vs. Indianapolis, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to twice throw for over 500 yards in a game.