A LAST-GASP free-kick from Shaun Maloney rescured a point for a below-par Latics side who had seemed unable to break down 10-man Rangers.
Latics had failed to make a one-man advantage count following the early dismissal of Bobby Zamora for a raised foot that caught Jordi Gomez in the head.
And it looked like they would pay the penalty with Loic Remy’s magnificent goal with six minutes remaining.
Wigan’s best opportunity had come deep inside the final quarter when a Gomez cross found an unmarked James McArthur, but the substitute headed straight at Julio Cesar when either side would surely have found the net.
And Rangers came up with the ultimate sucker-punch when Maynor Figueroa’s free-kick was charged down into the path of Stephane Mbia.
The midfielder ran half the length of the field before feeding Remy, who side-footed into the top corner from 25 yards with Joel Robles left helpless.
But credit Latics for picking themselves up off the canvas and, after Mbia conceded a needless free-kick on the edge of the area for barging into Maloney, the Scot curled a wicked set-piece over the wall and into the roof of the net.
The result leaves Latics in the bottom three on goal difference, although they do have a game in hand over 17th-placed Sunderland.
Rangers, knowing it was virtually win-or-bust for them, came flying out of the blocks and hit the woodwork with only eight minutes gone.
Jose Bosingwa’s cross was laid off by Junior Hoilett, and Remy’s dipping strike hit the post and away to safety.
Rangers stayed with it, and Andros Townsend’s shot was blocked by Antolin Alcaraz, the resulting cross too far in front of Remy.
There followed a good period of possession from Latics, which increased dramatically following the flashpoint on the 20-minute mark.
There seemed little danger when Gomez took delivery of a throw-in, before being completely taken out by a stretching Zamora.
After lengthy treatment for the Spaniard, referee Phil Dowd brandished the inevitable red card.
Gomez was booed from there on in, but it was hard to see why when he was clearly the wronged party.
From the restart, Remy thought he’d managed to race away only to be pulled back by an offside flag.
But Latics gradually took control and saw a shot from Gomez parried by Cesar, before Callum McManaman fired just over.
Lovely play from James McCarthy, Maloney and Arouna Kone saw McManaman shoot past the far post, with McCarthy seeing a shot tipped round the upright.
From Maloney’s corner, Paul Scharner’s header almost let in Kone, but the Ivorian could only come up with an air-shot from four yards.
Latics were nearly in on half-time when a short corner allowed Jean Beausejour to cut in, but Gomez could only drag his shot wide
Rangers made a change at the break, Nedum Onouha for Armand Traore, before Remy was lucky to remain on the field after an awful lunge on Gomez that Dowd deemed worthy of only a yellow.
Adel Taarabt replaced Hoilett as Rangers sensed an unlikely victory, and the new man’s cross was immediately headed just wide by Remy .
McArthur and Franco di Santo took over from Beausejour and McManaman after the hour mark, with Latics continuing to ask the questions without really testing Cesar enough.
McCarthy’s fierce shot was blocked by Clint Hill and McArthur fired over the crossbar, before the latter squandered a gilt-edged chance with 14 minutes left, heading straight at Cesar.
It looked as though Latics would suffer a potentially damaging defeat when Remy broke the deadlock on the break with a genuine contender for Goal of the Season.
But Maloney popped up right at the death to extend Wigan’s run to one defeat in seven matches - and secure them a precious point in their fight against the drop.
Latics: Robles; Scharner, Alcaraz, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, Gomez, Beausejour; McManaman, Maloney, Kone.
Subs: Al Habsi; Caldwell, Stam, McArthur (for Beausejour, 62), Espinoza (for Figueroa, 88), Henriquez, Di Santo (for McManaman, 68).
QPR: Cesar; Bosingwa, Samba, Hill, Traore; Townsend, Mbia, Jenas, Hoilett; Remy, Zamora.
Subs: Green, Ben Haim, Onouha (for Traore, 46), Granero, Park, Taarabt (for Hoilett, 57), Mackie (for Remy, 88).