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What we learned from the Chargers’ 33-30 victory over Pittsburgh

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

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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.

The Chargers are a playoff-worthy team

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.”

Melvin Gordon is missed, but Justin Jackson is here

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.

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