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Buzzer-beating brilliance
Ben Roethlisberger's first 500-yard game outlasted the Packers in 2009
By Mike Prisuta Oct 02, 2021

The two gunslingers had inflicted enough damage, and with enough precision, relentlessness and accuracy, that Mike Tomlin felt compelled to attempt an onside kick with his team leading and just 3:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.

In retrospect, Mike McCarthy should have contemplated the same moments later.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers outlasted Aaron Rodgers and the Packers back on Dec. 20, 2009, the day the two franchise quarterbacks squaring off for the first time transformed Heinz Field into the O.K. Corral. Roethlisberger got the last shot and Rodgers could only watch as wide receiver Mike Wallace hauled in Roethlisberger's final pass while somehow getting two feet down in the end zone as the scoreboard clock ticked down to triple zeroes.

The 19-yard touchdown reception, and kicker Jeff Reed's extra point, provided the winning margin in a 37-36 Steelers' victory.

The last-play, game-winning laser also pushed Roethlisberger's passing yards on the day to a franchise-record 503.

"We needed all 503," he noted afterward.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak, evened the Steelers' record at 7-7 and kept beating, temporarily, "a little pulse," as Tomlin characterized it, of hope they'd make the playoffs (they ultimately did not at 9-7).

The Packers saw their five-game winning streak come to a sudden, stunning end and fell to 9-5 on the way to 11-5 and an NFC Wild Card loss to Arizona.

The two teams would meet again approximately 14 months later in Dallas with a Vince Lombardi Trophy. at stake.

Rodgers won Super Bowl XLV

Roethlisberger won the Shootout.

The third and perhaps final meeting between the two scheduled for Sunday in Green Bay stands as a potential rubber match and, given the pedigree of the headliners and the storied histories of the two franchises, looms as perhaps as anticipated an inter-conference game as the NFL is capable of staging.


It started with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Wallace on the Steelers' first offensive snap.

It ended with Wallace hanging in the air like a horizontal Michael Jordan.

Those were the first and the last of Roethlisberger's 29 completions on 46 attempts for 503 yards and three TDs. Roethlisberger was sacked five times but wasn't intercepted throughout an attack-mode assault McCarthy didn't see coming.

"I don't think we thought it would go that way as far as the aggressiveness and the passing game against our defense," he admitted. "I thought (Steelers offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians did a hell of a job.

"I thought they called an extremely aggressive game."

Roethlisberger's 503 passing yards were the 10th-most in NFL history.

Among the big-play strikes were a 54-yard completion to wide receiver Hines Ward, 33 yards to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, 27 yards to tight end Heath Miller and 25 yards to running back Rashard Mendenhall, in addition to the game-opening 60-yard connection to Wallace.

"I know No. 7 was hot," Arians said. "No. 7 was unbelievable."

Roethlisberger and the offense also needed to be persistent.

The Steelers kept taking or building upon leads, 7-0, 14-7, 21-14, 24-14, 27-21 and finally 30-28 with 3:58 remaining.

The Packers kept battling back and eventually forged ahead twice in the second half.

Rodgers' 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Jones capped a six-play, 39-yard drive in 1:52 after the Packers were awarded the ball when Tomlin's onside-kick-with-the-lead ploy didn't work out as hoped initially.

The touchdown pass to Jones was Rodgers' third and capped a 26-for-48 effort for 383 yards and no interceptions (he was sacked once). His first scoring strike covered 83 yards to wide receiver Greg Jennings.

The two quarterbacks wound up attempting a combined 94 passes against two of the NFL's stingiest defenses (the Packers came in at No. 2 in total defense and the Steelers were ranked No. 4).

Neither one was intercepted and the game played out in 3:38 without a turnover.

A two-point conversion pass from Rodgers to running back Brandon Jackson following the Jones touchdown provided a 36-30 Green Bay lead with 2:06 left in regulation and a potential exclamation point.

Or so it seemed.

Roethlisberger had other ideas along those lines.

"We don't quit, that's kind of a Pittsburgh mentality," he emphasized. "We don't quit no matter what."


Reed's 43-yard field goal with just under four minutes to play took back the lead for the Steelers, this time at 30-28.

That's when Tomlin opted to get creative.

"We had 30 minutes of evidence we could drive on them," he explained afterward. "We also, conversely, had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us."

So the decision was made to try not to give the ball back to Rodgers.

FOX commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were caught completely by surprise.

As were the Packers.

Reed drove a one-hop onside kick into the ground and toward the right sideline. Only two Packers were in the vicinity of where the ball was headed and they were blocked by three Steelers.

Cornerback Ike Taylor was in perfect position to make the recovery and had running back Carey Davis positioned as a personal protector.

But Taylor's enthusiasm got the best of him (it was either that or excitement over the prospect of not having to defend against Rodgers again).

Taylor recovered, but at the 39-yard line rather than the 40, which is how far the ball had to travel before the Steelers could grab it.


Illegal touch, Pittsburgh.

First down, Green Bay.

"He was in a good position," Aikman said of Taylor. "If he had gotten 10 yards, then he recovers it without any problems."

As for the attempt, "I don't understand this one at all," Aikman said. "I don't get it on a number of levels."

Added Buck: "You talk about a gamble, when you lead by two, to try an onside kick? I don't get it, but they almost got it."

It took Rodgers six snaps to drive the ball into the Steelers' end zone.

"I can't wait to hear (Tomlin's) explanation because I don't understand the decision at all," Aikman repeated during the subsequent kickoff.

But Tomlin had considered such a contingency in making his decision.

"His plan was that if they were going to score, he wanted to leave us enough time to go down the field and score on them," center Justin Hartwig maintained. "And the plan worked."

Had it not, the game might be remembered for "Tomlin's Gaffe" or "Tomlin's Blunder."

"I wear that like a badge of honor," Tomlin insisted. "That comes with the job.

"I don't live in fear."


Kicker Mason Crosby's squib kickoff bounced through the legs of running back Mewelde Moore and running back Stefan Logan had to retreat to gain possession and was only able to make it back to the Steelers' 14 once he got himself turned around.

The Steelers had a long way to go (86 yards) and a short time to get there (2:01).

Along the way they worked around a sack and converted a fourth-and-7 (Roethlisberger to Holmes for 32 yards).

They overcame a holding penalty and a false start on offensive tackle Max Starks.

They converted a third-and-15 (Roethlisberger to Miller for 20)

"That last drive in February (to win Super Bowl XLIII over Arizona) was a lot easier than this here," Holmes said. "Only one guy was talking in the huddle and that was Ben. No other voice was spoken. No one had an opportunity to talk.

"We were all dead tired."

Linebacker James Farrior said it felt as if the two-minute drive had taken "20 minutes."

After 10 snaps (and four more than didn't count due to penalties) the Steelers had advanced the ball 67 yards.

But there were still 19 more to go and just three seconds left.

On the all-or-nothing third-and-10 destined to end it, Wallace ran past cornerback Josh Bell and then stopped halfway between the goal line and the end line, turned and leaned out of bounds.

The ball arrived and Wallace cradled it as he was falling to the ground with a gravity-defying toe-tap that required an extensive replay review to confirm.

"Like Santonio Holmes in the Super Bowl," Buck gushed.

FOX went to commercial with the validity of the catch still in doubt.

"For the moment, we're tied at 36," Buck said.

When the broadcast returned from commercial referee John Parry confirmed the touchdown and announced the game, by rule, would be extended for the point-after try.

Reed handled that and the Steelers celebrated.

And exhaled.

"A Super Bowl MVP-caliber catch," Roethlisberger said of Wallace.

"Ben threw a perfect ball," Wallace countered. "I can't tell you that enough. You can't put the ball in a better spot than he put that one."

The teams combined to gain 973 yards and score 73 points, and it came down to, in the estimation of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, "a miraculous throw and catch."

"They beat us by a play," Matthews added.

A buzzer-beater from the gunslinger fortunate enough to have the last shot.

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