PITTSBURGH - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw something from rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace he didn't like on Sunday.
With the Steelers trailing the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field, 36-30, with 18 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger threw in Wallace's direction on first and 10 from the 19-yard line. The ball fell incomplete, and Wallace received a tongue lashing from his quarterback.
"I chewed him out a little because I felt that he kind of quit on the play,'' Roethlisberger said. "I know that he's kind of hurt and banged up and tired, but I just said, 'Listen, it's time that you have to make a play. If I'm coming to you, I'm coming to you. It's time to grow up and do this.'''
Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
Hines Ward mobs Mike Wallace after the rookie caught the game-tying touchdown with no time left on the clock Sunday afternoon.
Two plays later with 3 seconds left in the game and the Steelers' 2009 season ready to reach its disappointing end, Roethlisberger came back to Wallace - with different results. Wallace stretched out on the side of the end zone to haul in Roethlisberger's pass to tie the game with no time on the clock.
Jeff Reed then kicked the game-winning extra point to keep the Steelers' faint playoff hopes alive and end their five-game losing streak with a dramatic 37-36 victory. The game featured nearly 900 yards of passing by the two teams, including a Steelers record 503 by Roethlisberger.
"I'm just happy to have a guy come back to me and to have a guy help me fight through adversity,'' said Wallace, who caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger on the Steelers' first offensive play of the game but didn't catch another pass until the very end.
Wallace jumped out to a big start in his first NFL season, catching 25 passes in his first eight games. But his development was slowed during the Steelers' five game losing streak, catching just seven passes in those five games.
He also dropped a pass in the third quarter Sunday after getting hit from behind by the Packers' Atari Bigby.
"[Wallace] made plays when given the opportunity, not that he's had a bunch of opportunities,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "And sometimes it's like that. It's about what you do with them when you get them. He played big. He played older than a rookie for us today.''
The winning drive and touchdown were reminiscent of the memorable drive and Santonio Holmes' game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII. Down by six points to the Packers (9-5), who were on a five-game winning streak, the Steelers started at their own 14-yard line with 2:01 left in the game.
The Steelers were able to convert a fourth-and-7 pass to Holmes for 32 yards, they overcame offensive holding and false start penalties on left tackle Max Starks, tight end Heath Miller caught two big passes, and an illegal contact penalty by the Packers' Brandon Chillar took away a Green Bay interception.
"The thing was, was that guys were coming back to the huddle worn out - linemen, receivers, everybody,'' Roethlisberger said. "We didn't quit. Everybody believed that we could do it. We got down to 3 seconds to go - it looked bleak. But this team never quits fighting.''
At the 19, following two incomplete passes, Roethlisberger said he spoke to running back Mewelde Moore and told him to try and get open along the sideline. Wallace was defended by Packers second-year cornerback Josh Bell in man-to-man coverage but wasn't the primary target.
He was actually the fifth option.
Roethlisberger said he first looked to Holmes on the right, then Moore, then to Miller and Hines Ward. He then saw Wallace and threw the ball where only he could catch it.
"[Bell] had his back to me,'' Roethlisberger said. "If the guy has his back to me then I have two shoulders to throw at, and Mike made a heck of a catch.''
Wallace kept both feet in the end zone and maintained possession of the ball as he hit the ground. The play was upheld in a review.
"I looked at the referee. I knew he couldn't overturn it because I knew I dragged my feet,'' Wallace said. "We practice that every day in practice.''
The Steelers will need to get back to the practice field this week with the Baltimore Ravens visiting Heinz Field at 1 p.m. next Sunday. The Steelers, at 7-7, are tied with five other teams that trail the 8-6 Ravens and Denver Broncos for the two AFC wild card spots.
After facing the Ravens, the Steelers finish the season against another 7-7 team, the Miami Dolphins.
"You can't kill us until we're dead,'' Starks said.
The Steelers looked to be dead several times Sunday. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown. He led the Packers back from deficits of 7-0, 14-7, 24-14, 27-21 and 30-28 to give his team a shot at pulling out the win.
His last TD pass came after the Steelers called for a controversial onside kick after taking a 30-28 lead with 4 minutes remaining.
"I thought [the Steelers] called an extremely aggressive game on their part,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native, said. "They didn't hold anything back.''
The Steelers can now celebrate the holidays in a much better mood.
"You dream of things like this all the time,'' Wallace said. "Before a game, I always see myself making plays in my head. For it to come true like that is great.''