The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to get back on to their winning ways after narrowing escaping victory the Thursday before last by missing a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter. Tonight, they are out west going up against the San Diego Chargers. The 2-2 Chargers have been better at home, while the Steelers have historically struggled on the west coast.
San Diego gets back its veteran receiver, Antonio Gates, returning from a four-game suspension, but Pittsburgh must wait to get back their own suspended pass catcher, as wide receiver Martavis Bryant suffered a knee injury last week during his first practice back.
Both teams were fairly beat up entering this game, with the Chargers in particular having a slew of players listed as questionable, but a good number of their key contributors are active today, including cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Jason Verett, returner Jacoby Jones, linemen D.J. Fluker and Chris Watt, and wide receiver Malcom Floyd.
However, they will still be down two linemen in King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin, whose absences the Steelers should be looking to exploit. Also missing will be cornerback Craig Mager and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who were previously ruled out.
For the Steelers, they will remain without Ryan Shazier, Daniel McCullers, and Cortez Allen on defense, with of course the big name being Ben Roethlisberger. Below are the official inactive lists:
G Orlando Franklin
WR Steve Johnson
CB Craig Mager
LB Tourek Williams
T King Dunlap
DE Darius Philon
RB Donald Brown
QB Ben Roethlisberger
LB Ryan Shazier
CB Cortez Allen
TE Jesse James
LB Anthony Chickillo
The Steelers won the coin toss and chose to come out with the ball in the first half. Mike Vick takes the field at the 20-yard line. Le’Veon Bell is taken down for a loss of one up the right side on first down. Vick flushed out to his left, but was able to find Heath Miller down the field for a big gain out to the 45.
Vick lined up outside with Bell under center, who handed the ball to DeAngelo Williams for a short gain. On second and eight, Bell kept the ball in the wildcat to pick up about six yards. Now on third and short, Vick back under center, his deep ball to Antonio Brown fell incomplete. Jordan Berry‘s punt was fair caught near the 15-yard line.
The Steelers blitzed on first down, but Philip Rivers got the ball out to Gates for 10 yards. The two hooked up on the same route for another first down near the 40-yard line. With the inside linebackers peppering the A gap, Rivers flew laterally to Danny Woodhead for a 31-yard gain. Ross Cockrell was penalized for a facemask penalty, putting the Chargers at the 16.
Melvin Gordon showed toughness to pick up four yards on first down. On second and six, Rivers easily found Gates at the front of the end zone for the 100th touchdown of his career.
Williams got the ball on first down and picked up about five yards up the middle. Vick was hit as he threw on second down to force an incompletion, taking a hard hit from Melvin Ingram. On third and five, after needing to take a timeout, Vick pitches it to Bell, who takes it up the middle for a seven-yard gain and a first down.
From the 32, Bell forced a missed tackle in the backfield but was only able to get a couple of yards out to the sideline. After a three-yard gain, On third and medium, Vick was forced to scramble under pressure, and was ultimately pushed out of bounds for a loss to force another punt. His 42-yard punt was fair caught by Jones, from whom the Steelers are making sure not to allow a return.
From the 24, Gordon was hit near the line of scrimmage after a short gain. Rivers was able to find his receiver under pressure for a first down, but Chris Hairston, the left tackle starting due to injury, was flagged for a hold. This time, Gordon was snuffed out on a screen pass and tackled near the line of scrimmage. Will Allen hobbled off the field, replaced by Robert Golden. On third and 18, Woodhead was tackled in open space by Lawrence Timmons well short of the first down. A hold on the punt puts the Steelers deep in their own end.
Starting from the 13, Vick tossed to Bell, who was smothered for a loss of two yards. On second down, Williams took it up the middle to make it about third and five after a seven-yard gain. Vick found Brown on a crosser for a huge catch and run that picked up 39 yards to the Chargers’ 43.
After the big conversion, Williams too the ball up the middle, showing some power to lower his head and pick up three yards. On second and seven, Bell struggled in pass protection, forcing Vick to scramble right, nearing throwing an interception. Bell was flagged for a hold, a rare mistake for him. Now second and 17, Bell was given the ball on a screen to pick up nine yards, setting up a third and eight. Verrett broke up the third-down pass in front of Brown to force a third consecutive punt.
Berry’s boot was fair caught at the 10, but Shamarko Thomas foolishly interfered with the returner, trying to catch the ball himself. That will put the Chargers on the 25-yard line. Allen was ruled out for the rest of the game.
The first half ended with Antwon Blake making the tackle on a screen pass for a short loss. Vince Williams did a nice job to drag Gordon down on second down, but a hold backed the Chargers up instead. On second and 21, Gordon got free for nearly 18 yards on a check down over the middle. On third and three, Rivers was under pressure, with Jarvis Jones closing in, throwing his first incompletion of the game. Brown returned the punt a short way to the 21-yard line.
Bell was stopped for a loss of two on first down. Out of the wildcat, Bell kept it after Williams came around, picking up six. On third down, Vick could not find Markus Wheaton at the sideline, which nearly pulled him out of bounds. Berry’s fourth punt ended on the 23-yard line with a tackle by Thomas after 56 yards. Two penalties on the Chargers set them back inside the 10.
Gordon picked up two yards on first down, with Golden filling the hole up the middle. On second down, after a false start on Hairston, under pressure, Rivers fired but Cockrell was there to break up the pass on a hook route. He could have been flagged, but let’s ignore that for now. On third and 13, the defense rallied to Woodhead underneath, with Bud Dupree ultimately making the tackle. Kicking from the 18, Brown fielded at the 25 and returned it beyond midfield, but Jordan Todman was flagged for a block in the back to wipe out that gain.
Vick went underneath to Brown on first down from the 24, picking up two yards. On second down, Bell found the edge for about nine. Bell picked up another four yards on first down. Be added another eight after a hard cut inside, pushing the pile for the first down.
Near midfield, Bell showed excellent patience working toward the sideline, cutting back inside for an explosive run of about 25 yards. From the 28, this time, however, he was hammered in the backfield for a big loss of five. On second and 15, out of the wildcat, Bell was hit for a loss again, setting up third and 19. Vick went to Bell over the middle to the 29, setting up Chris Boswell for his first ever field goal attempt. The first-year kicker was good for 47.
The Boswell legend continued to grow after his first kickoff went for a touchback. His field goal percentage and touchback ratio are both a league-leading 100 percent.
After a two-yard run, Rivers Jones continued to build on his strong rushing of the game to notch his first sack of the season, stunting inside and crashing the center. It was the defense’s 15th sack of the year. On third and 15, Cameron Heyward bulldozed his way into the backfield, but Rivers got the ball off to give Gates a chance. With Sean Spence falling down, Gates had a chance, but the ball bounced. Darrius Heyward-Bey was called for holding on the return once again.
From the 26, Vick checked it down to Bell, but he was only able to pick up about a yard. After the two-minute warning, Bell somehow slipped through a narrow crease to get skinny, getting to the outside and racing up the sideline to the Chargers 41. Williams got the carry this time for about three yards, with the Steelers using their second timeout at the 1:43 mark. Vick’s pass to Bell was incomplete over the middle. On third and seven, with the offense struggling to get it together, allowed pressure and Vick went down for the sack, knocking them out of field goal range.
Berry’s better showing continued as his punt was fair caught at the seven-yard line. On first down, Rivers tried a draw to Woodhead that was snuffed out at the line of scrimmage, with the clock running. On second down, Spence tackled Gates after a short reception underneath. Setting up a third down, Mike Tomlin used his final timeout with 56 seconds to go. Rivers found Keenan Allen on the cross, however, for the first down, as the Chargers used their second timeout.
Woodhead got out to the 38-yard line, but not out of bounds. River hit the out route across midfield out of bounds with 23 seconds to play. From the 49, Allen was taken down by Cockrell after a nine-yard gain, burning the last timeout with 12 seconds left. A quick out to Woodhead actually lost yards, with James Harrison making the stop. On third and three, Rivers threw the ball out of bounds. A 60-yard attempt was wide left. From the 50, Vick launched a hail mary that was intercepted to end the half.