GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In a game of momentum swings, a false-start penalty ultimately helped the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers 38-31 on a wild Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
With the win, Pittsburgh (7-8) maintained a shred of life in the playoff race. To reach the postseason, the Steelers must earn a home win next Sunday and have the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers all lose their regular-season finales.
The unlikely scenario still exists thanks to the bizarre ending at Lambeau Field.
After safety Troy Polamalu's forced fumble helped the Steelers score the go-ahead touchdown with 1:25 remaining, the Packers drove to Pittsburgh's 1.
On second-and-goal, right tackle Don Barclay was flagged for a false start with 20 seconds to play. After a 5-yard penalty and 10-second runoff, the Packers had just one chance, and quarterback Matt Flynn couldn't connect with receiver Jarrett Boykin as time expired.
The Packers were upset that they weren't allowed to immediately run a play. Instead, they got the ball snapped with three seconds to go.
"Not when the umpire is standing there and the clock is running," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said about getting the ball snapped sooner. "I don't know what you can ask Matt Flynn to do, or (center Evan) Dietrich-Smith."
On a replay, the umpire backed off the ball before starting the clock. The referee came toward the line of scrimmage with about 6 seconds left and yelled something, but it didn't appear to impact what the Packers were doing at the line of scrimmage.
Despite the loss, Green Bay (7-7-1) still has a chance to win the NFC North. The Chicago Bears (8-7) lost 54-11 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, so the Packers would claim the division title if they win at Chicago next Sunday.
With the game tied at 31 at the two-minute warning, Flynn scrambled on third-and-8 but was stripped by Polamalu, with the Steelers recovering at Green Bay's 17.
Shaun Suisham lined up for the go-ahead field goal with 1:35 to play but Packers linebacker Nick Perry was flagged for offside, which gave the Steelers a first down.
Running back Le'Veon Bell ran for 4 yards to the 1, forcing Green Bay to use its final timeout, and he scored on the next play, making it 38-31 with 1:25 to go.
The Packers let Bell score, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he didn't contemplate taking a knee, running out the clock and attempting a field goal.
"I'm not into that," Tomlin said. "We had an opportunity to put the ball in the end zone. With weather conditions like that, anything can happen. Given an opportunity to score, we are going to score. We felt comfortable putting our defense on the field to win it."
That decision almost backfired when Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards -- the team's longest of the year entering the game was just 31.
"It was huge," Flynn said. "We knew that getting it on the 20 we were going to hard-pressed with no timeouts to get a touchdown. That return did spark us and gave us energy. It wasn't like we were lacking a spark or anything in that second half, but seeing a big return like that definitely gave us ... we knew we had a better probability of getting into the end zone."
Completions of eight yards to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and 18 yards to tight end Andrew Quarless made it first-and-goal at the 5. Running back James Starks carried to the 1 on the next play.
The false start, however, wiped out any chance to earn their third consecutive comeback victory.
After rallying from halftime deficits of 21-10 against Atlanta and 26-3 against Dallas, the Packers overcame a 10-point deficit to tie the Steelers at 31 with 7:14 to play. A 31-yard completion to Nelson and two powerful runs from Starks set up fullback John Kuhn's 1-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Steelers took a 31-21 at the end of a wild five-minute sequence to end the third quarter.
After Pittsburgh rallied to take a 24-21 lead, Flynn threw a quick pass to Boykin. As he was about to throw, Quarless ran into Flynn. Flynn's fluttering pass was picked off by cornerback Cortez Allen, who raced 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Packers' ensuing possession went nowhere but, on the final play of the third quarter, linebacker A.J. Hawk made a one-handed interception. Green Bay took over at the 23 but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to pull within 31-24 with 12:04 remaining.
Green Bay took a 21-17 lead with 5:19 to go in the third quarter after a bizarre sequence of plays. After the Packers downed a punt at the 2, Bell was almost tackled in the end zone but powered out to about the 4, where he was stripped by linebacker Jamari Lattimore. Bell was ruled down but the Packers won the challenge, taking possession at the 2 on cornerback Tramon Williams' recovery.
The Steelers, however, stopped the Packers cold. With Green Bay using defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels as extra blockers, running back Eddie Lacy was dropped for a loss of three yards by rookie linebacker Vince Williams. After two incomplete passes, Vince Williams blocked a chip-shot field-goal attempt by Mason Crosby.
It appeared safety Ryan Clark picked up the loose ball and attempted a lateral. The ball hit the ground, however, with defensive lineman Ziggy Hood batting the ball out of bounds. Hood was flagged for illegal batting, and Green Bay retained possession when the officials ruled the Steelers never possessed the ball. Lacy scored from the 2 on the next play to give Green Bay a 21-17 lead.
"They screwed it up, in my opinion," Tomlin said, "but I will wait to hear judgment from those that evaluate performance. We got penalized for batting but I thought we had possession of the ball prior to batting. It would have been our possession."
The Steelers answered quickly. Bell made amends for his fumble with a 25-yard run in which he hurdled safety Morgan Burnett. Roethlisberger punctuated the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth.
Moments later, Allen got his key pick-six.
The Steelers' special teams were a dominant force throughout and got a huge play on the first possession of the third quarter. On fourth-and-2 near midfield, Tomlin called for a fake punt.
Punter Mat McBriar rolled to his right and patiently waited for someone to get open before lofting a pass deep to backup tight end David Paulson for a gain of 30. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Jake Stoneburner tacked on 15 more yards. On the next play, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and ran untouched for a 13-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh its first lead, 17-14.
"That was a heck of a play," Roethlisberger said. "We have watched him do that so many times in practice. He did a good job because his first read was the guy in that flat that was covered."
NOTES: Green Bay LB Clay Matthews recorded his 50th career sack with about five minutes left in the first half. Matthews injured his thumb on the play and was lost for the rest of the game. Matthews broke his thumb on a sack of Detroit's Matthew Stafford on Oct. 6 and missed four games. ... Fellow Packers LB Brad Jones was lost to an ankle injury in the first half, as well. ... RB Le'Veon Bell broke Pittsburgh's 23-game drought without a 100-yard rusher. He ran for 124 yards on 26 carries. Pittsburgh's special teams delivered two key return, a 41-yard punt return by Antonio Brown and a 46-yard kickoff return by Emmanuel Sanders. Brown's return didn't result in points but Sanders' runback allowed Pittsburgh to score a field goal at the end of the first half. ... Brown had six catches to give him 101 for the season. ... Sanders and LB Terence Garvin were knocked from the game with knee injuries. ... The Packers' 14-10 halftime lead was its first since Oct. 27 at Minnesota. That was the game before QB Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone.