Washington Football

Steelers regrouping after 34-24 loss to Chargers

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Steelers regrouping after 34-24 loss to Chargers

PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten pretty good at beating the NFL's best.

They've nearly perfected losing to the worst.

And while San Diego is more underachieving than utterly horrific, the Chargers' 34-24 win over the Steelers on Sunday continued a perplexing trend for a team that considers itself among the elite.

Pittsburgh (7-6) has won on the road at Baltimore and the New York Giants this season. It has also fallen to lesser-lights Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and now the Chargers (5-8). It makes for one of the weirder resumes of any playoff contender.

``There's nothing we can really say,'' Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. ``We know we went out and messed up a lot of games. We know we're going to pay for it here.''

The Steelers certainly paid for it on Sunday.

Pittsburgh hoped the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from a three-week layoff due to a sprained right shoulder would provide the final piece to a puzzle that's only come together in fits and spurts this fall.

While Roethlisberger's arm looked fine while throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns, he got little help from his teammates and was hardly perfect himself, throwing for an interception and having a botched screen pass turn into an easy San Diego score that put the Chargers up 24 midway through the third quarter.

``We felt like we missed a lot of plays out there,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I missed a lot of throws. I threw it to them once. We all have to play better.''

Amazingly, the Steelers are still in prime position to secure one of the AFC's six postseason spots after Cincinnati lost to Dallas. If Pittsburgh can win its final three games - starting with a road game against the Cowboys next Sunday - it's in no matter what happens elsewhere.

``I feel great about this team,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``We didn't play our best today and they got us but going forward I feel like we're going to win every game. That's what we've got to do to get in the playoffs.''

There are no such visions in San Diego, which came in having lost seven of its last eight. Yet the Chargers were able to make history by winning in Pittsburgh in the regular season for the first time, snapping a 14-game losing streak.

They did it by playing with the fearlessness and tenacity of a team with postseason dreams. Those are long gone, and head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith may soon be on their way out, too.

Not that it mattered on a day the Chargers looked like the team playing with something on the line.

Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes, two to Danario Alexander, and San Diego cruised.

``This isn't necessarily the team we thought we'd have on the field in December, but this is the type of performance we thought we'd put together,'' said Rivers, who completed 21 of 41 passes for 200 yards.

The injury-ravaged offensive line kept Rivers out of harm's way. The Steelers only sacked Rivers once, and all that extra time in the pocket helped him convert 12 of 22 third downs, allowing San Diego to chew up the clock and keep Roethlisberger from getting going while the game was still competitive.

``We all know that this team has played this way through large parts of many games,'' Turner said. ``We did not make the big mistake in the football game.''

Instead, it was the Steelers who couldn't seem to get out of their own way.

The Steelers didn't even cross midfield until a last-gasp drive to end the half ended with Shaun Suisham's 49-yard field goal that pulled them to 13-3.

Any boost the kick provided disappeared during the first 10 minutes of the third quarter.

San Diego converted five straight third downs during a clock-chewing drive, including a 17-yard burst up the middle by Ronnie Brown on third-and-13 from the Pittsburgh 29.

The play wasn't designed to get a first down, but a pair of missed tackles helped the Chargers extend the drive. Three plays later Rivers found Michael Floyd for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 20-3.

The 17-play march ate up nearly 10 minutes. The Chargers then needed barely 10 seconds to put the game away.

Backed up yet again after Floyd's score, Roethlisberger tried to hit Brown on a screen pass. The ball smacked into tight end David Paulson's rear and rolled into the end zone, where Quentin Jammer fell on it.

The play appeared to be overturned on review. Pittsburgh's offense ran back onto the field when referee Scott Green popped out from under the hood.

Instead, Green pulled a switcheroo, confirming the score to give the Chargers a 27-3 lead and a brief moment of joy in a year full of chaos.

``Yeah we've been struggling the last five weeks,'' tight end Antonio Gates said. ``But at the end of the day it only came down to one or two plays in those games we lost. Today, we just were playing the way we were capable of playing, the way we know how to play.''

NOTES: Steelers LG Willie Colon left the game with a left knee injury. Pouncey moved from center to guard, with Doug Legursky replacing Pouncey at center. ... Roethlisberger became the 25th quarterback in NFL history to surpass 29,000 passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards. ... San Diego WR Michael Spurlock had seven receptions for 64 yards, with five of the receptions turning third downs into first downs. ... Steelers WR Plaxico Burress had an 18-yard reception in the first half, his first reception since being re-signed by the Steelers two weeks ago. ... San Diego held the ball for 36:45, the most by a Pittsburgh opponent this season.

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Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

There were already some decent expectations placed on Antonio Gandy-Golden for 2020 — and then Kelvin Harmon went down. Now, the Day 3 selection is being labeled as someone who needs to really contribute to the Washington Football Team.

But is that too much to ask for a rookie who went on Saturday in the draft? Recent numbers indicate that answer may be yes.

From 2015 to 2019, 25 wide receivers were chosen in the fourth round, which is where Washington nabbed Gandy-Golden a few months ago. Here are some takeaways from looking back on how all of those guys performed in their first professional seasons:

  • Only one target topped 50 catches and 600 yards, and coincidentally enough, it was Jamison Crowder. Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two scores as a rookie for the Burgundy and Gold in 2015. The only other guy who came close to either of those marks was Antonio Callaway, who had 43 grabs for 586 yards and five touchdowns for Cleveland in 2018. Those are easily the two best performances by a fourth-round rookie wideout since 2015, so keep that in mind when discussing Gandy-Golden.
  • Out of that group of 25, 15 suited up for double-digit games for their teams during their first taste of the league. The average stat line for those 15 rookies was 17 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown in about 14 contests. That's meager. 
  • Just nine out of the 25 recorded a touchdown catch as a rookie, and only four (Crowder, Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton and Malcom Mitchell) visited the end zone multiple times.

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So, judging solely off of that data, it would appear that Washington shouldn't be prepared to lean heavily Gandy-Golden. And once you combine that history with other factors, such as the huge transition he's about to make from Libery to the NFL and the very limited offseason he's had thus far, then the outlook for Gandy-Golden becomes even dimmer.

There is a super simple counter argument, however, at least when it comes to comparing him to his past fourth-round peers, and it has to do with his potential playing time.

While the 22-year-old has to fight through a pandemic, something none of the above rookies can relate to and something that could be detrimental to his early career, he also may be in line for a massive share of snaps right away. Most players who go off the board where Gandy-Golden did are usually worried about simply making the team; he, on the other hand, very well could be a starter across from Terry McLaurin in Week 1.

That alone means Gandy-Golden could end up having enough involvement in the offense to come up with a Crowder-like, impactful debut. In 2019, McLaurin far surpassed other third-round rookie receivers due largely to the amount of opportunity he got with Washington (his ridiculous talent was a bonus of course, too). Gandy-Golden is tracking on a similar path. 

A fairly general rule for any franchise is that it's not exactly prudent to need a Day 3 pass catcher to immediately act as one of your primary weapons. Stats from 2015 to 2019 seem to back up that general rule.

Every rule has an exception here or there, though. Maybe Gandy-Golden, with his outstanding physical traits and possibly featured role in 2020, will be that next exception and make all this math and comparing a totally moot issue. 

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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