Ben Roehtlisberger and Philip Rivers meet up at the 50-yard line after a 33-30 win.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Justin Jackson is tackkled after a short run on fourth quarter drive at Heinz Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receive Keenan Allen scores a two point conversion to tie the game at 23 in the fourth quarter on Sunday in Pittsburgh.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Steelers defensive backs Joe Haden and Sean Davis collide while trying to intercept a Philip Rivers pass only to have it end up in the hands of Keenan Allen for a third quarter touchdown.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Keenan Allen Chargers receiver pulls in a tipped ball for a touchdown in the third quarter at Heinz Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler struggled to gain yards against the Steelers defense at Heinz Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers safety Derwin James intercepts a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter at Heinz Field on Sunday in Pittsburgh.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LJ Fort blocks a punt by Chargers’ Donnie Jones in the second quarter at Heinz Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers quarterback Phiiip Rivers is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds during first quarter action at Heinz Field Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Michael Davis is called for pass interference as he breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steeers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster during a second quarter drive at Heinz Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is held to no gain on a second quarter screen pass by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo at Heinz Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a long pass over Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. in the first qurater at Heinz Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Here’s what we learned from the Chargers’ 33-30 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night:
Maybe these Chargers aren’t the same old
After rebounding from being down 23-7 at halftime, Philip Rivers was left recalling a similar comeback in 2006 at Denver, a game the Chargers won despite trailing big late. This was the sort of opponent and environment that was supposed to be too much for this team. And with the way the first two quarters unfolded, that narrative only grew stronger. But these Chargers proved they might have more than most Chargers teams of the past. “As you can imagine, the locker room [at halftime] was a little bit antsy,” Rivers said. “We knew we had to get going and in a hurry. I don’t think we were down, but we knew we had to get going. … We haven’t had a win like this in a long time where we were down like that and fought back.”
When it’s on, this defense can be awfully good
The Chargers gave up points on Pittsburgh’s first two possessions of the game and final two possessions of the first half. They didn’t have as much as one official hit on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger until the fourth quarter. But in winning the second half 26-7, the Chargers continually thwarted Roethlisberger and his multiple weapons. Over the final two quarters, the Chargers limited the Steelers to 118 total yards and Roethlisberger to 99 yards passing. They were credited with eight passes defended overall, including a team-high three by safety Derwin James. Pittsburgh converted only one of four third downs after halftime. Coming off a game in which he had 189 receiving yards, JuJu Smith-Schuster finished with just 49 on six catches.
They won in early November in Seattle, against a team that today is 7-5 and in position to claim an NFC wild-card spot. But the Chargers hadn’t defeated an opponent that resembled a playoff shoo-in until taking down the Steelers at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh had won six of seven and had never lost a Sunday game played here in prime time during December. They were 8-0 in this spot before this weekend.
“We said, ‘This is a statement game,’” offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “‘This game will really prove, not only to the world, but more importantly to us, are we a playoff caliber team? Are we a capable team?’… I think we really proved that we’re the new Chargers for sure.”
The special teams can have special moments
The 2018 Chargers are on their second kicker and second punter, and recently experienced the indignity of being burned by fake punts two games in a row. On Sunday, they had a punt blocked and rookie kicker Michael Badgely had his first missed field goal (a 52-yarder) after he made nine in a row to start his career. But before the game was over, Desmond King would return a punt 73 yards for a score-tying touchdown — “After I made the first person miss, open lane, I’m gone,” he explained later — and Badgley would win the game with a 29-yard field goal with no time remaining. “When you play on the road, you have to take the special teams with you,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “They gotta show up, and they did tonight.”
Until a few second-half bursts by rookie Justin Jackson, the Chargers did almost nothing on the ground. At halftime, they had two yards on nine carries, an average of eight inches per attempt. Led by Jackson’s 63 yards, they rushed for 83 yards in the second half. Center Mike Pouncey afterward blamed the lack of production on the line’s inability to open any lanes. The Chargers have struggled to run the ball in the two games Gordon has missed, but they won both. Out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, Gordon is expected back in the next couple of weeks. Until then, Jackson certainly will receive more opportunities.