In what was likely their most-watched game of the past five years, the Chargers stepped onto the primetime stage and were reintroduced to relevancy with their 33–30 last-second win against the Steelers.
Now there’s no ignoring Los Angeles, sitting at 9-3 after winning eight of their last nine, as legitimate postseason contenders. As Philip Rivers continues to put together his signature season, the Chargers found a running game without Melvin Gordon and—gasp!—the L.A. special teams unit did a few things right to help get the win.
This game was a story of two halves, as the 7-4-1 Steelers thoroughly dominated the first 30 minutes. But the ending is all about Rivers and the Chargers, as the quarterback sent 14 of his 26 completions to sure-handed Keenan Allen for 148 yards and finished with 299 total passing yards while facing consistent pressure from Pittsburgh.
Los Angeles had three unconventional scores before taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Bill Vinovich’s crew missed a clear false start by right tackle Sam Tevi on the 46-yard touchdown catch by Travis Benjamin, causing shades of Hugo Cruz—the fired official who missed the false start on a touchdown pass against the Browns—danced in our heads.
Down 23–7, Keenan Allen caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rivers that should have been picked. Joe Haden had his second interception of the season in the end zone when Sean Davis, also gunning for the ball, hit Haden just as he was securing the catch. The ball fluttered into Allen’s hands for the touchdown, and after the Antonio Gates’s two-point conversion, the Chargers trailed by one possession in a game they were being thoroughly outplayed.
And after the Chargers forced a three-and-out at the start of the fourth quarter, Desmond King housed a punt return 73 yards, a bright spot in a long season—and night—for Los Angeles’s special teams unit. Earlier Michael Badgeley missed a 52-yard field goal (after Anthony Lynn decided against trying to convert fourth-and-one from the Pittsburgh 34) and later Donnie Jones had a punt partially blocked that advanced just 10 yards.
The game ended on three offside penalties against the Steelers as Badgeley attempted the game-winning field goal. Tied at 30-all with three seconds left, Haden was flagged for the first penalty on Badgeley’s 39-yard attempt that sailed over the left upright and was no good. On the untimed down, Artie Burns blocked the next kick from five yards closer, but he was comically offside and Badgeley got another attempt five more yards closer.
And Burns was offside a third time—so much so that he overshot the kick altogether—but Badgeley made the 29-yard chipshot for the win.
Two other positives came in the win for L.A. Safety Derwin James continued his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign with three passes defensed and an interception. And the Chargers’ running game, non-existent in the first half with just two yards on nine attempts, got going in the second half thanks to rookie Justin Jackson. On L.A.’s seven-play, 79-yard drive to take the lead, Jackson had two rushes for 36 yards and a catch for 19 yards.
Speaking of running backs, Steelers RB James Conner suffered what is reportedly a lower leg contusion in the fourth quarter, which isn’t a good sign for Pittsburgh’s short-term prospects at the position. Rookie Jaylen Samuels promptly scored on a 10-yard pass-and-catch, but he’s the Steelers’ third running back of the season.
In two weeks the Chargers get another primetime game for the nation, this time against Kansas City in a game that could shake up the entire AFC playoff seeding. The Chargers have been darkhorse pick for so many recent years, and they aren’t sneaking up on anybody anymore.