Late rally can’t save Chargers against Steelers

CARSON, CA (News4usonline) – Tight end Hunter Henry was the best player on the field for the Los Angeles Chargers against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outside of Henry finding the endzone a couple of times in the fourth quarter of a game that saw the Chargers walk into halftime behind by three touchdowns, Los Angeles didn’t give its fans too much to cheer for in its 24-17 defeat Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park.

Henry caught eight of Philip Rivers passes for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in the NFL’s primetime Sunday Night Football game.

“I felt good. I felt really good,” Henry said. “Going into the game, you know, I wasn’t planning on playing probably 50-60 snaps. That’s kind of how the game rolled. I was feeling really good. I felt really good tonight, so it’s just kind of how it went.”

Henry caught touchdown passes of 5 and 11 yards from Rivers. But by that time, the Steelers had already bought themselves a near-insurmountable 24-3 in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to two early miscues the Chargers committed.

The first costly mistake was when Rivers, under intense pressure from Pittsburgh’s defense, overthrew running back Melvin Gordon on a routine flare route out of the backfield. The ball flew behind Gordon and hit the ROKiT Field turf before Pittsburgh linebacker Devin Bush scooped it up and ran it in for a 9-yard touchdown.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) completed 26 of 44 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 24-17 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers/Mike Nowak

Fine, the Chargers spotted the Steelers a 7-0 lead. But then Bush and Rivers had another inadvertent hookup on the Chargers’ next offensive series. Under pressure again, Rivers saw one of his passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. Once again, Bush, who led Pittsburgh’s defense with seven tackles, was in the right place at the right time.

The tipped pass landed in Bush’s hands for yet another Los Angeles turnover.

Pittsburgh running back James Conner would take it from there, scoring on a 12-yard run, concluding a 4-play, 19-yard drive. Thanks for coming and good night. Just like that, the Chargers found themselves in a 14-0 hole, a deficit that Los Angeles obviously could not climb out of. The Chargers offense was shutout in the first half by the Steelers and was looking up at a 24-0 Pittsburgh lead before it mounted a scoring surge.

“Well, I mean those costly turnovers were huge,” Henry said. “That kind of puts a damper on anything. When you turn the ball over two drives in a row like that, give them a short field, it kind of puts them in a perfect position. Then, we just couldn’t run the ball. So, we’re going to have to really focus on that this week. I think that’s the biggest thing, is just running the football, take a little pressure off of everything else.”

Losing to the Steelers is the third defeat in the last four games for the Chargers, now sitting in the AFC West Division with a 2-4 record. Rivers, who finished the game with another 300-yard performance (26 of 44 passing for 320 yard and two touchdowns) lamented about the Chargers offense getting off to another slow start.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) uses the stiff arm against Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55). The Steelers defeated the Chargers, 24-17. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers/Mike Nowak

“Not good enough. I mean, we tried to rebound from last week,” Rivers said after the game. “We’ve had two poor performances in a row, offensively, and slow starts, and it has cost us in both of them. We got going, but it was too late, especially for today. We’ve just got to keep going. We can sit here and over analyze it and talk about what happened, but it’s not going to change it, we’ve just got to keep going.”

For Rivers, who ended the game with two picks and that costly fumble, and the Chargers, it indeed was a case of arriving late to the party. By the time Los Angeles decided to show up, the Steelers were headed to the afterparty. Falling behind early and then trying to save face with a late rally is a matter that has gotten a little stale for Chargers coach Anthony Lynn.

“Well, we’ve dug ourselves in a hole here. I still believe in this football team,” Lynn said. “We dug ourselves in this hole, and I believe we’ll dig our way out. We cannot go and play a team like that, with a defense like that, and give them 14 points. I think they moved the ball 30 yards to score 14 points. We can’t do that. We turned the ball over three times; we only took one.”

“I thought they controlled the ground game both ways,” Lynn added. “We have to a better job of running the football and we have to the team from running the football on us. It’s disappointing, but like I said, ‘I believe in these young men. I believe we have enough to get it done and I believe we will.”

The Chargers’ mishaps made life easier for Pittsburgh third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges. With a quick two-touchdown lead, Hodges didn’t have to do much but manage the game for Pittsburgh. The Steelers rookie had a safe and productive outing, completing 15 of 20 passes for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“Anytime the defense scores first it takes the pressure off us,” Hodges said. “It makes us feel more comfortable. The pressure just goes away.”

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