Sunday Night wrap-up: Chargers escape with a wild one over Steelers
There’s a first time for everything.
The Steelers blew a big lead at home, and the Chargers hit big kick when they needed to.
Kicker Michael Badgley lifted the Chargers to a 33-30 win over the Steelers Sunday, hitting a 29-yarder with no time left in the game.
It was actually his third try, after the Steelers were offsides twice in a row as he missed a 39-yarder and had his 34-yarder blocked. And had he missed the 29, he’d have gotten another try, as Artie Burns was offsides again (and actually dove past the kick he was so early) but the penalty was declined.
But it wasn’t just the kick that made it dramatic, but the way the Chargers came back after trailing 23-7 at halftime.
Quarterback Philip Rivers was cool, throwing for two touchdowns, with Keenan Allen doing the heavy lifting (14 catches for 148 yards and a score). Allen also had one of the memorable catches of the season, taking a deflection off the hands of Steelers cornerback Joe Haden.
And that comeback happened after the locals heard “Renegade,” and that simply does not happen. Or it didn’t.
The Steelers had never lost a home game when leading by at least 14 points. That record was 220-0-2.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. It made for a good finish, but the Chargers scored a pair of cheap touchdowns.
There was an uncalled false start on right tackle Sam Tevi their first score, and a block in the back penalty was missed during Desmond King’s fourth-quarter punt return score.
It’s unlikely another official will get fired for missing obvious calls during a Chargers game, but the Steelers have every right to feel slighted, although we’re guessing they’re going to be more than slighted.
2. The Steelers aren’t a traditional running team anymore.
But the loss of James Conner late left them thin in the backfield, and they weren’t thick there to begin with. But hey, they have $14.5 million in cash and cap space to play with.
They got a touchdown reception late out of Jaylen Samuels, but at some point they’re going to have to run like a normal team (though running doesn’t seem normal anymore).
Standing on principle (or whatever it was) during the Le’Veon Bell negotiations could ultimately cost them more than money, if an otherwise explosive offense becomes a dud.
3. Speaking of, if the Chargers are serious about being a playoff team, they’re still going to need running back Melvin Gordon back soon from his knee injury.
They ran nine times for a whopping 2 yards in the first half, a stat buoyed by the Travis Benjamin’s 1-yard run.
Backup running back Austin Ekeler had eight carries for the other yard, a clean 0.125-yards per carry average. That’s 4.5 inches per carry.
Part of that’s on the Steelers defense, but it also shows what a drop-off it is from Gordon to Ekeler, who is a nice complement and good special teamer.
Things got better in the second half, as the blocking improved dramatically and Justin Jackson showed some flashes.
4. For a team with such a tradition of kicking problems, the decision to kick early remains a dubious one for the Chargers.
Trying a 52-yard field goal with Badgley on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 34-yard line was a borderline call anyway. But his miss gave the Steelers extra field position, and they scored immediately.
With a defense like theirs, it would be easy to justify going for it more often, and that’s even without factoring in their special teams struggles.
5. Chargers rookie safety Derwin James may not win defensive rookie of the year honors, but it won’t be for lack of versatility.
James has the kind of rare fill-the-stat sheet talent, with the ability to make impact plays in the pass game as well as against the run.
There are other serious contenders for the award (namely Darius Leonard, Bradley Chubb, and lately Leighton Vander Esch), and James almost seems overlooked despite playing in the second-largest market on a good defense.