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.
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.
What the Steelers said
"He is a great player. It was definitely a challenge on my part. I wanted to go out there and play at his level or better. I am just glad we got the win. That is the biggest thing. I am happy with my performances, besides the fumble. Other than that, I think had a pretty good day." -- Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell on his duel with Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
What the Packers said
"It's frustrating that we lost, and obviously it puts us in that situation (of scoreboard watching the Chicago-Philadelphia game). It's part of it, especially down the stretch when we haven't taken care of business, you kind of have to rely on other teams. I think we played well tonight, we just didn't make enough (plays) and had a couple too many mistakes." -- Wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
What we learned about the Steelers
1. Le'Veon Bell might not have the big-time stats of Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, but the Steelers' running back showed his tremendous promise. In a battle of second-round rookies, Bell rushed 26 times for 124 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. Lacy, who was knocked from the game with an ankle injury, carried 15 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Bell, a 240-pound bruiser, did exactly what he did at Michigan State: He beat defenders with his power and his vertical leap.
2. The Steelers aren't going to the playoffs, which is probably good news for the rest of the AFC. The Steelers have won five of their last seven games. After turning the ball over in bunches early in the season, they have just two in their last six games. After giving up 35 sacks in the first nine games, they've yielded just six in the last six games. Meanwhile, the defense had three sacks and forced two turnovers, including a pick-6.
What we learned about the Packers
1. Even if the Packers get into the playoffs, they don't look ready to make a run -- with or without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This is a team that simply makes too many mistakes. The Packers had been one of the least-penalized teams during the second half of the season but were guilty of two huge penalties in the final minutes. An offside penalty on a late field-goal attempt allowed the Steelers to score the go-ahead touchdown, and a false start resulted in a 10-second runoff that forced a last-gasp heave into the end zone.
2. The Packers' special teams have been bad all year and were horrible against the Steelers. Emmanuel Sanders had a 46-yard kickoff return. Antonio Brown had a 41-yard punt return. Mason Crosby, in the midst of a career season, had a chip-shot field goal blocked. Green Bay's Jake Stoneburner muffed a kickoff, almost resulting in a turnover. The only saving grace was Micah Hyde's 70-yard kickoff return, which gave the Packers a chance to tie the game.