The Los Angeles Chargers won’t win many style points for how they clawed back Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But for a franchise that has been put through the ringer a bit historically, this was about as refreshing a plot twist as could be hoped for.
Not that it was easy at all, but the Steelers certainly played their part in helping the Chargers win a game they likely had no business doing so.
Chargers kicker Michael Badgley hit a 29-yarder with no time left for a dramatic victory that vaulted them to 9-3 and nipping at the heels of the first-place Kansas City Chiefs, who just released Kareem Hunt following the release of a video that showed him pushing and kicking a woman back in February.
Badgley missed his first attempt from 39 yards out and — in fitting with this game — the Steelers were called for offsides. His second try, from 34 yards, was blocked … but once more the Steelers were guilty of crossing the line of scrimmage. Badgley wouldn’t miss the third attempt, though, and the Steelers fell to 7-4-1. And, oh yes: The Steelers were offsides again on the third kick, but it was naturally declined.
After falling behind early in Pittsburgh, the Chargers mounted a massive comeback by getting a healthy dose of luck, even prior to the wild field-goal sequence to end the game. They scored touchdowns on plays that should have been wiped out on a false start, a likely interception and a punt return with an uncalled block in the back. But it all added up to a massive victory over a Steelers team they could turn around and face in the playoffs in a month.
Chargers rookie RB Justin Jackson, who came into the game with 12 carries, helped them replace an injured Melvin Gordon with his first NFL touchdown to put them up in the fourth quarter after trailing by 16 points in the second half.
The Steelers’ lead in the AFC North shrunk to half a game over the Ravens, who have won three straight suddenly. The Steelers had been 220-0-2 when leading by 14 or more at home prior to this stunning game.
They had taken control early on two James Conner TDs, blocking a punt and shutting down the Chargers’ run game. The Chargers got on the board with a 46-yard bomb to Travis Benjamin, but it appeared that replacement RT Sam Tevi was guilty of a false start that the referees missed. That made it 13-7 Pittsburgh, but the Chargers allowed 10 points in the final 2:45 of the first half when Chris Boswell hit a 48-yarder (after missing an extra point earlier) and Antonio Brown — who had a season-high 154 yards — scored from 24 yards out.
The Steelers led 23-7 midway through the third quarter but watched the Chargers drive 88 yards to make it a one-score game. Philip Rivers converted a beautiful third-and-14 pass to Antonio Gates to set up a 10-yard pass to Keenan Allen. On the Allen TD, Steelers DB Sean Davis seemed to break up an interception by teammate Joe Haden, and even injured him with friendly fire in one fell swoop. The ball popped into the air to Allen, who hauled it in for a gift score, and a Rivers-to-Gates two-point conversion (Haden’s replacement, Artie Burns, was burned on the play) made it 23-15.
The Chargers’ defense then stiffened and pushed the Steelers back deep into their own territory. Punter Jordan Berry outkicked his coverage, and Desmond King ran it back 77 yards for a score two minutes into the fourth quarter. The return appeared to be aided by a block in the back from Allen, but it went uncalled. Another two-pointer, this one from Rivers to Allen, shockingly tied the game up after Pittsburgh had been in full control.
After a Steelers three-and-out, Jackson took over for the Chargers. He stacked an 18-yard run, a 19-yard catch and another 18-yard run — the latter for a shocking score to put the Chargers up, 30-23. The Heinz Field crowd, which got very loud when the Chargers first took the ball on the drive backed up in their own zone, fell into stunned silence.
The Steelers moved the ball to the Los Angeles 43-yard line and came close to converting a third-and-10 play on a catch by Juju Smith-Schuster, but the ball was marked short of the line to gain. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin challenged the call and lost, leaving them to go for it on fourth down.
James Conner converted the first down, and the Steelers had life after a helmet-to-helmet penalty on the Chargers pushed the ball to the 26-yard line. But Conner went down with an ankle injury, and the Steelers turned to rookie Jaylen Samuels. Two plays later, Roethlisberger found Samuels on a shallow cross for the game-tying score with 4:10 left.
But that was plenty of time for Rivers, who hit 4-of-5 passes on the final drive, and Jackson, whose clutch running helped seal the game. For the Steelers, this was a devastating loss for a team that had won six straight but now has dropped two in a row.