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Saved By The Bell, Steelers Beat Chargers On Final Play Of Game

Last week against Baltimore, with the game on the line, the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches erred massively by not giving Le’Veon Bell the ball. This week, they wouldn’t even let anyone else touch it on the final play of the game.

Facing a 1st-and-goal from the Chargers one-yard line down 20-17 with five seconds left and one timeout, Pittsburgh rolled the dice and sent Bell out to run the wildcat and go for the win. The risk paid off when Bell somehow slipped tacklers to dive for the goal line as time expired, breaking the plane for a walk-off 24-17 Steelers victory that seemed unlikely for almost a full 60 minutes.

Phillip Rivers came out firing on the Chargers first possession, capping a five-play, 84-yard drive  with a 12-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Antonio Gates. The night appeared to be long for Pittsburgh, as several Steelers defenders once again missed tackles to allow the quick scoring drive.

The Steelers offense remained listless throughout the first half, only able to tally a Chris Boswell field goal in the first half, after Bell scampered through the Chargers defense for run of 8, 9, and 25 yards. The Chargers weren’t much better however, as their makeshift offensive line was consistently brutalized by Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt all night. Rookie kicker Josh Lambo missed from 60 yards out on the penultimate play of the first half to keep the Chargers lead at 7-3.

Needing a turnover in the worst way, Jarvis Jones stripped the ball from Chargers rookie running back Melvin Gordon on San Diego’s first drive of the second half and the much-maligned Shamarko Thomas recovered for Pittsburgh.

But three plays from the Chargers 48-yard line netted just six yards, giving the ball back to San Diego once again. The teams would exchange punts before Rivers got the Chargers on the move late in the third quarter, connecting three times with Keenan Allen for 40 yards. But the Steelers defense again came up with a big play, as Antwon Blake stepped in front of a Rivers pass and returned the interception 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.

Rivers would answer back, marching San Diego 58 yards on eight plays to tie the game at ten after Lambo’s 40-yard boot 11 seconds into the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh quickly went three-and-out, giving the ball back to San Diego in less than one minute of game time.

Rivers wasted very little time, going 60 yards in eight plays before finding Gates again, this time in the back of the end zone where the veteran tight end had beaten Robert Golden on the corner route. Given the way Pittsburgh had moved the ball (or hadn’t), with 8:02 left in the game, it looked like that might be all the points San Diego would need.

But enter Vick, disastrous for most of the night (had at least two probable pick-sixes dropped) yet resilient as ever. First play from scrimmage on the Steelers ensuing drive, Vick rolled left and dropped a deep dime to Markus Wheaton, who had beaten Brandon Flowers with an excellent double-move to get free vertically. Wheaton raced into the end zone and send the heavy conglomerate of Steelers fans at Qualcomm Stadium into a frenzy.

The Chargers weren’t done however, as Rivers dinked-and-dunked his way into field goal range, before Lawrence Timmons knocked down his 3rd-and-eight pass to force San Diego to try for the triple. Lambo’s 54-yard boot was good to give the Chargers a 20-17 lead with 2:56 left.

Then things got crazy. Following a Lambo touchback, 18 seconds were run off of the clock that no one on the field apparently noticed (expect to hear more about that this week). Despite the lost time, Pittsburgh stuck to their running game, giving twice to Bell for gains of seven and four yards before the two-minute warning. Then Vick went to work.

The Steelers veteran signal caller found Darrius Heyward-Bey for nine yards, before completing another huge throw to the veteran receiver for 15 yards on 3rd-and-one to move the ball to the Chargers 45 with 1:04 left in the game. After two plays netted just four yards, Vick took off for his first scramble of the game, scampering 24 yards up the middle to the Chargers 17 with 36 seconds left. Field goal range, but how aggressive could Pittsburgh afford to be in the final seconds?

After spiking the ball and misfiring deep to Heyward-Bey in the end zone, Vick found a leaping Heath Miller at the goal line for 16 yards to move the ball to the Chargers one. Miller hung on to the pass in traffic despite taking an illegal shot to the head, a penalty which stopped the clock at five seconds remaining and the Steelers clinging to their final timeout.

Opting to stay aggressive and go for the win, Todd Haley (and apparently Ben Roethlisberger) dialed up the Wildcat run for Bell, who took the direct snap behind a pulling DeCastro, stepped over a few bodies, and somehow plunged over the goal line with his knee hovering a centimeter above the turf.

It was a spectacular effort to cap another brilliant individual performance from Bell, who finished the night with 21 carries for 111 yards and the game-winning score. The Steelers will need more of the same from Bell this upcoming Sunday against Arizona, as they return home looking to improve to 4-2 against former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ 4-1 Cardinals in a 1 p.m. kickoff.

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