The Chargers will walk into a hostile stadium Sunday to face a stout opponent.
They also will be entering a theater that this week has featured some self-inflicted drama.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made headlines during a radio show when he criticized wide receivers Antonio Brown and James Washington for misplays during the Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday.
“This is a game where you always want a competitive advantage,” Chargers defensive lineman Damion Square said. “I hope whatever they got going on they get resolved … after our game.”
Pittsburgh’s players have dismissed the suggestion that the drama could impact their season. But should the Steelers struggle against the Chargers, the situation could be worth monitoring.
Before losing to the Broncos, Pittsburgh had won six in a row to move atop the AFC North. The Steelers won only once in their first four games.
“As a competitor,” Square said, “I can’t not want my opponent to have some type of distraction before competing against them, right? I mean, that’s just common sense.”
Compared to many NFL teams, the Chargers have operated relatively free of soap opera moments.
Drama with the Chargers of late typically has involved Philip Rivers overheating on the field or a kicker missing an extra-point attempt.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen and Rivers did have an animated discussion on the sideline recently but that situation passed quickly.
“It’s guys having accountability,” Square said. “We’re just real comfortable with each other. When you point fingers, guys have to accept that criticism and learn to move on.”
Defensive end Joey Bosa caused a slight stir this week when he appeared on a national radio show and was asked if Roethlisberger was bigger than him. Roethlisberger is listed at 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds and Bosa at 6-5, 280.
“I don’t know if he’s bigger,” Bosa said. “He might be as big. He may have a few pounds on me. I don’t know if it’s good pounds.”
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has been identified in various reports as a candidate to replace Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who announced this week that he was stepping down.
Whisenhunt, in his fourth season with the Chargers, played at Georgia Tech in the early 1980s with Todd Stansbury, who is now the school’s athletic director.
Whisenhunt said he had no idea his name was being linked to the school until someone mentioned it to him while he was walking off the practice field Wednesday.
“I'm certainly flattered that people think that,” he said. “But the focus right now is really on the Steelers. In this business, if you’ve been in it, those kinds of things happen.”
Whisenhunt, 56, is a native of Augusta, Ga., and a former Atlanta Falcons tight end.
He spent the 2013 season as the Chargers offensive coordinator before leaving to coach the Tennessee Titans.
Whisenhunt returned to the team as offensive coordinator before the 2016 season. Anthony Lynn retained Whisenhunt when Lynn was hired as coach a year later.
“I’ve been so busy … I haven’t had a chance to think about it,” Whisenhunt said Thursday of the Georgia Tech speculation. “I’m honored that my name would be mentioned. But right now it’s really more about the Steelers.”
It’s a first
In the middle of Rivers’ historic 25 consecutive completions Sunday was another bit of history: Sean Culkin’s first career catch.
The second-year tight end had a 24-yard reception on a first-and-20 play in the second quarter. On the next play, Melvin Gordon scored on a five-yard run.
“The throw was unbelievable,” Culkin said. “I don’t think he could have thrown a better ball. I was just glad I was able to help my teammates.”
Culkin’s catch wasn’t bad, either. He had to go up and snag the ball between two Arizona Cardinals defenders before tumbling backward upon landing.
“Absolutely, 100%,” Culkin said when asked if he was certain he would make the catch. “I knew I had it.”