The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) entered Qualcomm Stadium on Monday night against the San Diego Chargers (2-2) without much support from NFL experts. ESPN analysts during the Monday Night Football showdown echoed the sentiment in Las Vegas that the Steelers did not have what it took to beat Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and a Chargers team that looked primed for a win. The Steelers saw most of their production from a defense that has been harangued for inconsistencies through the preseason and first four weeks of the 2015 regular season and little hope on offense without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. The game was an intense battle between the two teams, but with one of the most dangerous, risky calls made on offense all night, the Steelers looked to running back Le’Veon Bell as the game clock literally ticked away its last seconds. Bell attacked the pile, looked to be stopped short of the goal, but managed to stretch in a second effort and put the ball across the plane and give the Steelers their third win of the season in what could only be called a gut-check moment.
After the offense sputtered for the most part of the evening, the Steelers could easily have watched their decision to go for a win be a horrible mistake. Instead of a game-tying field goal that would have sent them into overtime for the second week in a row, tied with their opponents, they managed to get a touchdown when it counted the most. The Steelers still had the bad taste of their week four loss to the Baltimore Ravens in their mouths, and that may have been one of the biggest determining factors for taking the risk.
The offense, with Michael Vick at quarterback, had struggled all night to put together enough plays to keep themselves in the game, forcing Jordan Berry to kick eight punts. Vick, who continued to appear rattled by the complexities of the Pittsburgh offensive scheme, struggled to get passes to receivers, often putting the ball on the wrong shoulder or in dangerous spots where the Chargers defense was able to jump the route. It wasn’t until the second half of the game, trailing 17-10, that Vick rolled on a play-action fake and found Markus Wheaton wide open behind Brandon Flowers for a 72-yard touchdown pass that tied the game.
Bell was paired with DeAngelo Williams and became a workhorse as the passing game worsened. Behind Roosevelt Nix at fullback and with a mix of the wildcat and some decent blocking, Bell chewed up hard-earned yardage that moved the ball. Bell has long been credited with being a patient runner, but on Monday night, he showed elements of grit combined with an ability to juke defenders out of position to gain extra yards.
The Steelers did not open the game with a defense that looked confident. Rivers was able to take advantage of soft coverage to hit Gates, the All-Pro tight end who entered the game coming off of a four-game suspension for abusing the league’s policy on banned performance-enhancing substances. The combination looked like it would abuse the Steelers for the entire game. Poor tackling and point-of-attack play gave up yards to San Diego and points. Penalties were an issue as well.
In the second half of the game, it looked like the defense was going to not only have to clean up its act, but become the primary means to getting points on the scoreboard for Pittsburgh. Looking exhausted from pressuring a worn Chargers offensive line and rush on Rivers, it was a play by Jarvis Jones on Melvin Gordon that resulted in a stripped ball on third-and-two near midfield that allowed Shamarko Thomas to grab the ball and run to the end zone. Thomas was ruled down by contact, but it was a takeaway. After watching the Steelers offense unable to turn it into points, the defense took the field on San Diego’s second offensive possession of the second half with determination. In dominating fashion, rookie Bud Dupree stormed Rivers from the outside with speed and earned his third sack on the season. Although Antwon Blake was caught over-pursuing in one-on-one situations in a series that did not begin well, he made up for the mental errors by grabbing a 70-yard pick-six that gave the Steelers a needed boost.
Overall, the Steelers played just hard enough to grab a much-needed win. Following the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told the assembled media, “You know Philip Rivers looked more comfortable late in the game. Those two defenses were battling, the offenses kind of got accustomed to what they were looking at and we traded scores there at the later part of the game. You get veteran quarterbacks’ looks at stuff, they’re going to get comfortable, [and] they’re going to solve the riddle if you will. I thought Philip solved us a little bit. I thought Mike did what was necessary for us to win.” Necessary seemed the be the defining word. “It was time to go to the mattresses if you will. We had to do what was required to win. That’s an element of our attack. (Bell) is good at it. It was an opportunity to infuse. (DeAngelo Williams) in the game as well, we just try to do anything we can to move the football.”
Bell admitted that the final call was a risk, but he was ready for it. “When it was called…it was the end of the game and I just wanted to get the ball in the end zone to end the game right there. I’m glad (Todd Haley) had the faith in me to call the play. Coach (Tomlin) had the faith in me to call the play. The guys up front did their job…that was a great play call and a great execution. I’m glad we went out there and won the game.” Bell admitted that the touchdown was the most meaningful one of his career so far. “A game winner, last play of the game, that’s something you always dream about.”
The Steelers will host the Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Heinz Field on Sunday, October 18. Kickoff is scheduled at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern time). In the AFC North, Pittsburgh now sits in second place between the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals.
(Article originally posted on Examiner by author under different headline)
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