Chargers exhale after SNF win against Steelers

INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – A football game in the NFL can change in seconds. Just when you think a game might be over, something pops up and flips the narrative. Well, the Sunday Night Football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh turned out to be one of those games.

Due to a wild sequence of events, a sure blowout win turned into a nail-biter.

But Austin Ekeler and his guitar touchdown dance had something to say about that. A week after becoming the youngest running back in the modern era to reach 20 receiving touchdowns, Ekeler found his way into the endzone four times to lead the Chargers to a 41-37 win at SoFi Stadium.

“I’m extremely proud of our football team, as proud as I’ve been of our football team the entire year,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “That environment was really, really challenging for us. We stayed together that fourth quarter. We stayed together the whole game. We played with tremendous energy tonight. I felt the Powder Blues the whole game in all three phases.” 

The last time the Chargers and the Steelers clashed here in Southern California, the two teams tangled at Dignity Health Sports Park Carson, California. That was in 2019. The Chargers didn’t have quarterback Justin Herbert, and the Steelers were without the services of long-time signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin went with Michael Vick. Vick did his thing and led the Steelers to a 24-17 win. That was then. This is a different Chargers football team. Different head coach. Different starting quarterback. And a different attitude.

The attitude part comes from knowing what’s at stake. The playoffs. It’s a simple task. The Chargers needed to win their matchup against the Steelers. Herbert does not run the football like Vick, but he knows how to scoot down the field when he needs to move the chains.

Herbert made like his best Vick impersonation on a couple of eye-popping scrambles to go along with zipping passes. Against Minnesota, Herbert reached a milestone of hitting the 50 career touchdown passes benchmark. Herbert showed off his overall versatility in the win against Pittsburgh, rushing for 90 yards on 9 carries.

“You just have to convert, whether that’s by the ground or through the air,” Herbert said. “If there are open rush lanes and guys are getting covered, and no one’s playing defense on the quarterback, you have to kind of step up and find a way to get through the line. I thought the line did a great job of protecting me and making sure those lanes were wide enough to run through.”

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert goes back to throw against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Sunday Night Football game. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers

Besides running the football well, Herbert also went with the traditional stuff, passing for 382 yards and three touchdowns.

“He was fantastic in the game today,” Staley remarked. “He was the best player on the field. He has real instincts at the game for the position. He has real instincts at the game. His legs, today, really helped us win that football game.

“What happens is if you’re trying to play this guy a certain type of way, if you’re going to try to play this split-safety man-under [coverage], and you’re in a four-man rush, well, the one guy that they’re not accounting for is the quarterback. When it’s drained out and he sees daylight, now he becomes a tailback. He moves the chains. That’s part of your job as a quarterback.”

Besides the running and scrambling of Herbert and the national showcasing of the running and pass receiving skills of running back Ekeler, the game plan for the defense of the Chargers against the Steelers was pretty simple: stop the run.

If the Chargers No. 32-ranked defense could find a way to slow down the impact of Steelers running back Najee Harris, they would put themselves in a good position to win their sixth game of the regular season. Through the team’s first nine games, the Chargers defense had given up an average of 155 yards per game to opponents running the football.

The yards per rushing attempt was 4.8 that the Chargers defense surrendered before playing the Steelers. After having to go up against the likes Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings), Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns), Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys), and Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense already, the Chargers defense was prepared for Steelers running back Najee Harris.

Harris came into the game with 646 yards rushing. Los Angeles held the Steelers to a grand total of 55 yards on the ground, their defensive unit best effort of the season.

The other objective for Staley’s team was to just win. After absorbing a sobering home defeat to the Vikings just a week ago, the Chargers needed a victory to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West Division.

And with two tough road games against the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals, it was almost imperative that the Chargers leave their home stadium a winner.

Before their dance with the Steelers, the Chargers were not even one of the teams considered for a wildcard playoff berth. So as the season nears its conclusion with seven games remaining, the Chargers are going to be pressed to win out most of their games to make it to the postseason.

So with the majority of the SoFi Stadium fans waving their Terrible Towels, the Chargers appeared ready for the challenge, getting ahead of the Steelers with a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Thanks to the defense stuffing the Steelers with a goal-line stand in the second period, the Chargers took their double-digit advantage when quarterback Justin Herbert drove the team 98 yards in 12 plays to paydirt. The payoff for the Chargers was a 10-yard touhdown pass from Herbert to Ekeler.

The Chargers looked and played like they were in control of the game from that point. By the time the third quarter had ended, the Chargers were running away from the Steelers, having built a 27-10 lead going into the fourth period. And then stanger things happened.

The Los Angeles Chargers held the Pittsburgh Steelers offense to just 55 yards in a 41-37 Sunday Night Football win. Photo credit: Los Angeles Chargers

A blocked punt, an interception off a deflection, and before the Steelers could say boo, they had scored 27 points in the fourth quarter and taken the lead from the Chargers.

“What a crazy game,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we had three series in the first half, three and three. No punts. We kept the punter on the sidelines, which is always good for offense. We blocked a punt, scored. The defense gets a turnover. Just a bizarre sequence of events. Obviously, we’d like to finish the game off.”

Instead of going into full shell-shocked mode, the Chargers responded with a Herbert to Mike Williams 53-yard touhdown pass with 2:09 left in the game.

With the defense getting to Roethlisberger for a couple of sacks after the Williams score, the Chargers officially put an end of their Sunday night drama.

“That was a tough one,” Tomlin said. “I’m just very appreciative of the efforts of our guys. All those expected and required, it still should be appreciated. I appreciate the way they stayed in and stayed together and fought. It was obvious we didn’t have a good enough plan tonight with our current makeup and state. We couldn’t get enough stops defensively. We couldn’t apply pressure with our four-man rush or keep them in the pocket. We weren’t good enough in coverage with less than seven.” 

Featured Image Credit: Los Angeles Chargers