Seahawks outlast Pittsburgh in Sunday thriller

Russell Wilson out-dueled Ben Roethlisberger in Week 12, tossing a career-high five touchdown passes to lead the Seattke Seahawks (6-5) to a 39-30 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5). Here's what you need to know:

  1. This back-and-forth contest with postseason implications was one of the most exciting games of the season, highlighted by a wacky fourth quarter that began with a Steelers fumble recovery correctly overturned on replay. From there, Richard Sherman got away with a pushoff on an easy interception. Lawrence Timmons drew an unnecessary roughness penalty for pushing Wilson before the quarterback stepped out of bounds. All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham was carted off with a torn patellar tendon. Jermaine Kearse capped that drive with a touchdown, staking Seattle to a 26-21 lead. Ben Roethlisberger answered three plays later with a vintage improvisational highlight pass, hitting Markus Wheaton in-stride for a 69-yard score to go ahead 27-26.

Wilson answered that touchdown with a 30-yard strike to Doug Baldwin, regaining a 32-27 lead with under four minutes remaining. Overcoming the NFL's infamous "catch" rule which negated a 27-yard Wheaton reception, Roethlisberger drove to the doorstep of the end zone. Faced with a 4th-and-3 decision -- roughly equivalent to the 2-point conversion situations of which Pittsburgh is so fond -- Mike Tomlin opted for the field goal and a 2-point deficit. It was a surprising move for a coach who insisted at halftime that, "We're not going to live in our fears. We're going to live in our hopes."

Those hopes were dashed when Wilson converted a third-and-9, hitting Baldwin at the sticks for a tackle-breaking 80-yard catch-and-run -- the Seahawks' longest play of the season. Down 39-30 with two minutes remaining, Roethlisberger was sent to the locker room for a concussion evaluation, undercutting whatever slims chances remained for a comeback.

  1. Although both pass defenses left a lot to be desired, Wilson and Roethlisberger deserve credit for a magnificent quarterback exhibition. After starting last week's game 12 of 13, Wilson authored one of his finest in-pocket performances this week, recording the second-most passing yards (345) of his career to go with the five scores. With Graham set to undergo season-ending surgery, Seattle will need Wilson's lights-out play to continue.
  1. Roethlisberger continues to lead the NFL's most lethal downfield attack, unleashing a trio of pass plays over 40 yards against a defense that had allowed only two such plays all season. Despite missing four games, Roethlisberger easily leads the NFL with 13 plays over 40 yards. With Antonio Brown drawing Sherman and Martavis Bryant attracting extra attention, Markus Wheaton went bonkers, hauling in nine passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. One of the NFL's true enigmas, Wheaton shattered his previous career high by 104 yards. With matchups versus the suddenly surging Colts, at the AFC North-leadings Bengals and home against the AFC West-leading Broncos over the next three weeks, the Steelers will be crossing their fingers on Roethlisberger's concussion tests.
  1. Neither of these defenses can cover tight ends. The Seahawks were fortunate that Heath Miller left at halftime with a rib injury after hauling in five catches for 45 yards. As impressive as their defense has been the past three years, they have allowed 30-plus points three times, including twice at Century Link Field. They hadn't done that since 2010. Free-agent flopCary Williams was a healthy scratch for the first time this year. As incredible as Earl Thomas has been since entering the league, he's been on the wrong end of too many highlight plays this season -- including Martavis Bryant's 11-yard end-around touchdown.
  1. While concerns over the Steelers' injury-ravaged offensive line have proved to be overblown, the beleaguered Cover-3 secondary simply isn't playoff-caliber. Too many receivers are running wide open downfield and too many tackles are missed within 10-15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
  1. Cincinnati's win combined with Pittsburgh's loss effectively ends the Steelers' chances of tunneling through to claim the AFC North crown, barring an epic Bengals faceplant. At 6-5, Tomlin's troops are tied with the Texans, Jets and Chiefs in the wild-card hunt.
  1. The Seahawks have worked their way back into the NFC playoff picture, currently holding the No. 6 seed over the reeling Falcons. They hit the road to face the 8-3 Vikings and 3-7 Ravens before returning home to host the 2-8 Browns and 4-7 Rams. The season finale at Arizona could prove to be anti-climactic if the Cardinals wrap up the NFC's No. 2 seed by Week 16.
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