GREEN BAY – Had they not found a way to win the game there's a pretty good chance the Steelers wouldn't have been as emotional in the immediate aftermath in the bowels of historic Lambeau Field.
But they did and they were.
"It was exciting playing in Green Bay in late December," Troy Polamalu allowed after the Steelers' 38-31 triumph. "It's what you dream of when you're young. You don't really dream of it being 70 degrees and sunny. It's the 'Frozen Tundra.' It's everything you grew up hearing about."
Added Brett Keisel, "There's a lot of history in this place that everyone who plays in the National Football League should appreciate. To play a game like this that wasn't perfect, that had all kinds of ebb and flow and to fight to the very end and come away with a win, it's a very great feeling, and I'm really proud of our team.
"It was a game to remember. It was a game I can tell my kids about."
NO SECOND GUESSING
Coach Mike Tomlin and the players stood by three critical decisions that ended up backfiring on the Steelers.
The first was Ryan Clark's decision to attempt to lateral the recovery of a blocked field goal to William Gay. The Steelers led, 17-14, with 5:32 left in the third quarter and had just stopped the Packers from scoring on three consecutive snaps after Green Bay had gained possession at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line following a fumble by Le'Veon Bell.
Referee Carl Cheffers' crew eventually ruled the Steelers never had possession after the blocked field goal and awarded Green Bay a first-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line after Ziggy Hood was penalized for illegally batting the ball at the conclusion of the play.
"They screwed it up in my opinion," Tomlin said. "I thought we had possession of the ball prior to the batting."
As for Clark's decision to attempt a lateral, "I'm not passing judgment on that," Tomlin said. "Those guys are fighting and clawing and trying to win. Like I said the other week (after a Polamalu attempt to return a missed field goal on Dec. 8 against Miami), when you have the ball on PAT- or field goal-block, that's one of the purest opportunities to score in football because of the non-tacklers on the other unit. I'm not going to change my stance on it."
Clark's take: "If you have an opportunity to have a defensive back with the football against eight or nine linemen and two specialty players you want to get that opportunity to run it."
The second such occurrence was a pass on first-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 38-yard line with nine seconds left in the third quarter and the Steelers leading, 31-21. Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted by A.J. Hawk and his subsequent 7-yard return and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Matt Spaeth set the Packers up at the Steelers' 23-yard line.
"I saw him," Roethlisberger said of Hawk. "I put it right where I wanted to, he made a great play. In hindsight I wish I could have put it two inches higher. Heath (Miller) was open behind him; just didn't throw it quite high enough. I saw (Hawk) suck up thinking run, didn't think he'd make the play but he did.
"Coach T (Tomlin) said to me, to Coach Haley (offensive coordinator Todd), 'Keep the foot on the pedal. Let's keep going, don't slow down.'"
Tomlin was also asked in his postgame briefing if he considered burning clock for a couple of downs and kicking a field goal with just seconds left to play after Bell had been stopped at the 1-yard line on first-and-goal from the Green Bay 5 with 1:28 remaining in regulation. The Packers had used their final timeout after Bell's run on first down. Once he scored on the next snap it ensured Green Bay would get the ball back.
The Packers eventually reached the Steelers' 1-yard line on their subsequent possession but were held out of the end zone.
"I'm not into that," Tomlin said of playing for a last-play field goal in that instance. "We had an opportunity to put the ball in the end zone. In the weather conditions like that anything can happen (on a field goal attempt). Given an opportunity to score we're going to score.
"We felt comfortable putting our defense on the field to win."
ONE FOR THE PUNTER
Tomlin declined to take credit for the fake punt that allowed the Steelers to maintain possession on their first drive of the second half. Mat McBriar's pass to David Paulson and a 15-yard penalty on the Packers advanced the ball from the Pittsburgh 44-yard line to the Green Bay 13-yard line. Roethlisberger ran it in from there to give the Steelers a 17-14 lead.
"The congratulations go to guys like Mat who made it happen," Tomlin said. "He's employed to punt the ball, not to throw the ball. We rolled him out, gave him multiple options. He made the appropriate read and a good throw, to boot."
McBriar, who entered the NFL in 2004, summed up his first NFL completion (he's now a 1-for-2 career passer) as follows: "Look, I couldn't throw a football to save myself when I first came across here (from Australia). I was a cricket player; it's a totally different motion. I couldn't throw a spiral for years.
"I didn't look anyone off. I was looking for my first go-to (in the flat). Once I saw he was covered, and I still had time I looked down the field."
Tomlin cited "mettle" as one of the characteristics displayed by the Steelers given the back-and-forth nature of the game.
Miller thought that a quality the Steelers could count on in such situations.
"I've been in the locker room with a lot of these guys; I know they've got it," he said. "I think the young guys in the locker room are proving that they've got it. I'm proud of everybody for that."
THE LAST WORD
Roethlisberger on the Steelers continuing to battle against long postseason odds: "It's who we are."
Clark on the same: "I'm proud to be a captain of a team like this."