Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Chargers deliver kick to Steelers' fourth-quarter comeback
The Pittsburgh Steelers playing a prime-time Sunday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field was the perfect time to celebrate the anniversaries of two of their Super Bowl champion teams.
The Steelers made sure in the first half that the game wouldn’t be overshadowed by the halftime festivities. The highlight was the introductions of 1978 legends like Franco Harris and Joe Greene – who received the loudest roars – and 2008 heroes James Harrison and Santonio Holmes.
But the Steelers also showed who they would be counting on if they are going to win the Super Bowl this season, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it was the same duo that dominated headlines all week.
For the third consecutive game, it would require a fourth-quarter comeback.
1. Above the noise: For all of the fuss made over Ben Roethlisberger’s criticism of Antonio Brown last week, the Steelers know their chances are best when Big Ben and AB are clicking.
Roethlisberger wasted no time going to Brown, completing a 9-yard sideline pass on second-and-8. Then they went deep, with Brown catching a 46-yard pass over cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. to set up the Steelers’ first score.
Roethlisberger also hit Brown on a third-and-10 for a 14-yard gain. Later, Brown made a spectacular catch for a 24-yard gain while absorbing a big hit from safety Derwin James. That play, however, was ruled incomplete after a review showed Brown didn’t get his right foot down before going out of bounds.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger rolled left and threw a perfect pass to a streaking Brown in the back of the end zone for a 23-7 lead. By halftime, they had connected six times for 117 yards and a touchdown.
2. Making a point: Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner heard the criticism about the Steelers run-pass ratio at Denver, when they attempted 58 passes to 16 rushes.
The first play was a handoff to James Conner for a 2-yard gain. After Brown’s 46-yard catch, Conner scored on a 1-yard run.
On the next series, Conner also ran on first down, this time for 4 yards. After a pass-interference penalty, Conner scored on another 1-yard run for a 13-0 lead.
Conner’s first six carries went for only 11 yards, but he scored two touchdowns and allowed the Steelers to set the tone. By halftime, they had rushed for 46 yards on 11 attempts (4.2 per) while throwing it 25 times for 172 yards and a score.
It was a small step toward better balance.
3. No rattling Rivers: The Steelers put pressure on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on the second series, as rookie safety Terrell Edmunds chased him down for his first career sack.
On the next play, Rivers did something he hadn’t done in the first half last week against Arizona: He threw an incomplete pass. Rivers completed all 19 first-half attempts and his first 25 passes against the Cardinals, when he finished 28 of 29 for 259 yards.
But Rivers never got rattled, as he repeatedly found open receivers to move the Chargers. They got a big break when right tackle Sam Tevi got away with an obvious false start, allowing Rivers to throw a 46-yard touchdown to Travis Benjamin to cut it to 13-7.
Nothing seemed to faze Rivers, not even a 23-7 halftime deficit.
4. Bad breaks: The Steelers missed too many scoring opportunities, and that caused them to blow a big lead.
Chris Boswell missed a point-after kick late in the first quarter. Roethlisberger threw another ill-advised pass for an interception deep in Chargers territory.
Even when the breaks went their way, it backfired. L.J. Fort blocked a punt that was recovered by Jordan Dangerfield at the Chargers 34. Roethlisberger overthrew a wide-open Justin Hunter in the end zone — Hunter injured his shoulder diving for the ball and did not return — and the Steelers settled for a 48-yard Boswell field goal instead of a touchdown.
Another self-inflicted blow came in the third quarter, when cornerback Joe Haden was positioned to intercept a Rivers pass in the end zone but was hit by safety Sean Davis. The ball popped into the hands of Keenan Allen for a touchdown to cut it to 23-15.
The biggest came when Desmond King II returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown, and a two-point pass to Allen tied it at 23-23.
If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Steelers wouldn’t have had any against the Chargers.
5. For the win: That changed in the fourth quarter, but not until after the Chargers used a seven-play, 79-yard drive capped by Justin Jackson’s 18-yard run to take a 30-23 lead with 8:09 remaining
It forced another fourth-quarter comeback by the Steelers.
They didn’t disappoint.
The Steelers lost a challenge when Roethlisberger’s third-and-10 pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster was ruled a yard short and the play was upheld by review. But they got a critical conversion on fourth-and-1 by Conner, and a personal-foul penalty by Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown for his high hit on Ryan Switzer.
Conner picked up a first down on a screen pass, but suffered a lower-body injury and limped off. That put Jaylen Samuels in the game, and he scored the game-tying touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Roethlisberger to make it 30-30 with 4:10 remaining.
Then things got weird.
Rivers led the Chargers downfield, eating the clock and forcing the Steelers to use up their timeouts.
Michael Badgley missed a 39-yard field goal, but Haden was called offsides.
Badgley’s 34-yarder was then blocked by Artie Burns, but he was called offsides.
The third try was good, as Badgley converted a 29-yarder for a 33-30 walk-off win by the Chargers.
And, suddenly, the Steelers aren’t looking so Super.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.