Win or go home
The Steelers laid it all on the line in the closing seconds of Monday night’s contest. With five seconds left in the fourth quarter and the ball at the one-yard line, Pittsburgh lined up in the Wild Cat formation. The ball was snapped directly to running back Le’Veon Bell who muscled his way on the outside for the game winning score. The ball cracked the plain just before Bell’s knee hit the ground. The score was reviewed and confirmed.
The Steelers used 12 plays to go 80 yards in the game’s remaining two-minutes-and-fifty-six seconds. Backup quarterback Michael Vick had his biggest comeback win in recent memory to get Pittsburgh to 3-2 on the season. Amazingly, Vick’s first and only rush of the game went for 24-yards on a crucial third and six with 36 seconds remaining at San Diego’s 41-yard line. He later delivered a strike to tight end Heath Miller for 16-yards to put Pittsburgh at the Chargers one-yard line. The rest was history.
“These are one of those games (where) you are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers,” safety Jimmy Wilson said. “You have to play for 60 minutes. We played for 58.”
Welcome back Antonio Gates
The Chargers wasted no time getting their future Hall of Fame tight end involved in the offense. Quarterback Philip Rivers’ first pass of the game went to number 85 for a 10-yard gain and a first down. The very next play, same thing, Rivers to Gates over the middle on a short slant for a 12-yard gain. The drive was capped off with a 12-yard throw from Rivers to Gates for the tight end’s 100th career receiving touchdown, making him one of two tight ends in NFL history with 100 receiving touchdowns, Tony Gonzalez being the other. Gates also became just the ninth player in NFL history with 100 receiving touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Rivers and Gates hooked again for another touchdown, this one from 11-yards out on a beautiful over the shoulder throw and catch in the back of the end zone. The score gave the Chargers a 17-10 lead with 8:07 remaining, but it didn’t last long. On the Steelers very first play following the Chargers touchdown, quarterback Michael Vick heaved a 72-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton that tied the game.
“I never had any expectations in terms of what I was going to do going into the game,” Gates said. “All I wanted to do was contribute and I was able to do as much as I could when the opportunities presented themselves.”
Gates two touchdown receptions were the 73rd and 74th time he and Rivers hooked up for a touchdown. He finished the game with nine receptions for 92 yards.
O-Line backup mashup
Left tackle Chris Hairston, who was filling in for the inactive King Dunlap, exited the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. He was replaced by center Chris Watt, who took over at left guard, with Kenny Wiggins moving to right tackle, and Joe Barksdale moving to left tackle. Watt did not start at center because he’s been fighting a groin injury. He nearly made it through the end of the third quarter before leaving with a head injury. He was replaced by the recently signed, third-string center, J.D. Walton. The Chargers finished the game with this combination on the offensive line from left to right: Barksdale, Walton, Robinson, Fluker, Wiggins. Rivers was sacked twice and hit two other times.
“I think we played just about everybody,” head coach Mike McCoy said. “We’re not going to make any excuses. We’ve got the players who are here. They have a job to do and we have a job to do as coaches.”
Three early penalties (two for holding, and one false start) on the three ensuing drives after the Chargers first score cost the Chargers valuable field position. Both holding penalties backed the Chargers up from their own 25 to the 15, and the false start backed San Diego from its own 12 to the 7-yard line.
“Penalties killed us,” Rivers said. “Three straight drives they killed us. They got us into second and long and we tried to get some of it back. We just couldn’t get to where we had a manageable third (down) that we could really go after. So yes, the penalties killed us on those three drives because we had so many opportunities to make it a two-score game early. We didn’t get it done.”
Nowhere to run for SD
Running back Melvin Gordon rushed 15 times for just 42 yards (including his second fumble of the season) against the Steelers defense. He had just four attempts in the first half for a total of nine yards. Danny Woodhead rushed once for one yard, as well, giving the Chargers a grand total of 10 rushing yards across six first-half drives. For the game, Woodhead finished with four carries for 10 yards. However, both Gordon and Woodhead were effective checkdown receivers for Rivers. Gordon caught a career high seven passes for 52 yards while Woodhead had five receptions for 66 yards.
Last week, Philip Rivers snapped a streak of nine straight games dating back to last season in which he threw an interception. Hopefully he does not start a new one. In the third quarter, Rivers threw a pick-six to Antwon Blake that was returned 70 yards, giving the Steelers their first lead of the game at 10-7 with 3:36 remaining before the final period. The Chargers responded, however, on their next possession with a 40-yard Josh Lambo field goal to even the score at 10-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers and Steelers combined to punt 13 times Monday night.
This was a road game for the Chargers. No doubt about it. Yellow and black roaring fans filled Qualcomm Stadium with waving terrible towels all afternoon and night.
“It was a tough environment,” Philip Rivers said. “It felt like a road game.”