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Chargers capitalize on 53-yard TD pass to defeat Steelers in a thriller

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Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert eludes Steelers linebacker Delontae Scott
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, left, eludes Steelers linebacker Delontae Scott in the first half Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to rally and tie the game, a 53-yard touchdown catch by Mike Williams delivers the Chargers to a 41-37 victory.

Chargers avoid complete meltdown with late, 53-yard TD in win over Steelers

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler spikes the ball next to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Taco Charlton.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler spikes the ball next to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Taco Charlton after scoring a touchdown Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Leading by 17 points to start the fourth quarter Sunday night, the Chargers avoided an epic three-phase, five-alarm meltdown to escape with a heart-thumping 41-37 victory over Pittsburgh.

Justin Herbert completed a wildly productive night by hitting Mike Williams for a 53-yard touchdown with 2:09 remaining to give the Chargers back the lead they almost impossibly had kicked away.

“It didn’t always go as we scripted it,” safety Derwin James said. “They battled back. They got some momentum. We put the fire out.”

The Steelers scored 27 points in a stretch of barely 10 minutes in the final quarter to take the unlikeliest of leads before Herbert and Williams rescued the win at SoFi Stadium.

The atmosphere inside the Chargers’ home was buzzing and largely leaning toward Pittsburgh, the cheering and towel-waving only growing as the Steelers came roaring back.

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Chargers sack Ben Roethlisberger twice on Steelers’ final possession to secure 41-37 win

Chargers free safety Derwin James and inside linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga jump in the air and celebrate.
Chargers free safety Derwin James (33) and inside linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (57) celebrate after making a goal-line stop on the Steelers in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Chargers 41, Steelers 37 — FINAL

The Chargers needed their defense to come up with a couple big plays, and Kyler Fackrell and Joey Bosa delivered.

Fackrell and Bosa sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ final possession, eventually leading to a fourth-and-long situation that was too much for even comeback-minded Pittsburgh to overcome.

Fackrell’s sack put the Steelers back eight yards before Bosa’s sack led to an 11-yard loss. A delay of game penalty by the Steelers forced them into fourth-and-32, and an incomplete pass intended for receiver James Washington sealed their fate.

Pittsburgh managed to briefly take the lead after rallying from a 17-point deficit. The Chargers jumped ahead for good with 2:17 left in regulation when receiver Mike Williams, who hadn’t found the end zone in over a month, scored on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert.

Austin Ekeler provided the bulk of the Chargers’ scoring with four touchdowns. Herbert completed 30 of 41 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also had 90 rushing yards.

Roethlisberger, playing in his first game since returning from the COVID reserve list, completed 28 of 44 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

The Chargers improved to 6-4 on the season and the Steelers fell to 5-4-1.

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Mike Williams scores first TD in more than a month to give Chargers lead

Chargers 41, Steelers 37 — 2:09 fourth quarter

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams scores on a 53-yard touchdown pass to give the Chargers the lead again.

Blown coverage left Williams wide open on the play, making him an easy target for Justin Herbert. After making the catch, Williams had a more or less clear path to the end zone.

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Steelers take the lead on Chris Boswell field goal late in fourth quarter

Steelers 37, Chargers 34 — 3:24 fourth quarter

Chris Boswell makes a 45-yard field goal to give the Steelers their first lead of the game since the opening minutes of the game.

After looking so lost in the third quarter, the Steelers have played smarter and have taken advantage of the Chargers’ mistakes to re-take the lead. Justin Herbert and the rest of the Chargers’ leadership corps will need to prove they’re the better team.

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Steelers score game-tying TD after picking off Justin Herbert

Steelers 34, Chargers 34 — 4:23 fourth quarter

Pittsburgh cornerback Cameron Sutton intercepted a deflected pass by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert to set up the game-tying touchdown three plays later.

Herbert’s pass was batted at the line, and Sutton made an incredible head-up play to sprint forward and snag the ball before it hit the ground.

Ben Roethlisberger then found Pat Freiermuth on a five-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Making matters worse for the Chargers, they failed to convert on fourth-and-one on the ensuing possession, giving the Steelers the ball again.

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Steelers put together quick scoring drive

Chargers 34, Steelers 27 — 4:49 fourth quarter

Pittsburgh tight end Eric Ebron capped off a quick scoring drive with a five-yard touchdown catch on a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger to keep the Steelers within striking distance.

The drive was spearheaded by a 32-yard catch by Diontae Johnson and an 18-yard pass to Ebron to put the Steelers in the red zone.

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Austin Ekeler scores fourth TD of game after huge Justin Herbert run

Chargers 34, Steelers 20 — 8:48 fourth quarter

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a five-yard carry up the middle that was set up by a big clutch scramble by Justin Herbert one play earlier on third down.

Unable to find an open receiver on third-and-five from the Steelers’ 47, Herbert broken off a 36-yard run to take the ball into the Steelers’ red zone. A superhuman effort by defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who managed to chase down Herbert, prevented the play from being a touchdown. However, Heyward somewhat sabotaged his effort when he was called for unnecessary roughness after the play.

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Steelers block punt and survive fourth-down scare to score TD

Chargers 27, Steelers 20 — 11:35 fourth quarter

The Steelers needed a game-changing play, and Miles Killebrew delivered it for them.

After Pittsburgh’s defense managed to force fourth down on the Chargers’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Killebrew blocked a Ty Long punt, giving the Steelers the ball at the Chargers’ five-yard line. From there, Najee Harris scored a one-yard touchdown to bring the Steelers back in range for a comeback.

Of course, it almost all fell apart for the Steelers. Only a pass interference penalty Tevaughn Campbell on fourth down from the Chargers’ five-yard line allowed the Steelers to keep possession and punch it in on the next play.

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Chargers hold Steelers to another field goal

Chargers 27, Steelers 13 — 14:10 fourth quarter

The Chargers are bending, but they aren’t breaking.

Chris Boswell kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Steelers their first points of the half, and they’ll need a lot more — and discover a way to get the ball out of Justin Herbert’s hands — to have a chance at a comeback in this one.

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Dustin Hopkins kicks another field goal for Chargers

Chargers 27, Steelers 10 — 3:44 third quarter

Dustin Hopkins kicked his second field goal of the game — this time from 41 yards out — to extend the Chargers lead late in the third quarter.

Justin Herbert showed off his playmaking skills on the possession leading up to the field goal, breaking off a 13-yard run on a third down in the middle of the drive. Holding penalties, however, undermined the drive once it got into Steelers territory.

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Austin Ekeler scores his third TD of the game on tackle-shedding romp

Chargers 24, Steelers 10 — 11:50 third quarter

Running back Austin Ekeler scored his third touchdown of the game on a 17-yard catch full of dekes and tackle breaks that left the Pittsburgh defense stunned.

The Chargers’ textbook drive to start the second half also included a rocket-like pass through the middle of the Pittsburgh secondary to Keenan Allen for 30 yards, a 14-yard pass to Allen on the very next play and a 12-yard run by Ekeler.

Allen has eight catches for 105 yards so far and Ekeler has made five catches for 48 yards. Ekeler also has seven carries for 38 yards.

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Chargers extend their lead just before halftime

Chargers 17, Steelers 10 — halftime

The Chargers missed a prime chance to take an 11-point lead into the locker room at halftime when Steelers safety Karl Joseph broke up a short pass to Austin Ekeler on third down just yards away from the end zone. The Chargers had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins.

Still, the eight-play, 63-yard drive provided another scoring opportunity for the Chargers, who haven’t had much of a problem slicing through the Pittsburgh defense so far. The Chargers have 240 total yards and 18 first downs so far.

Justin Herbert completed 16 of 19 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown — he also tallied 44 yards on four carries. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has completed 11 of 17 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers have shown so far tonight they’re more than capable to beat the Steelers. If the defense can find ways to slow down Pittsburgh in the second half, it appears Herbert and the offense will continue to be too much for the Steelers’ defense to contain.

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Steelers strike back with outstanding touchdown catch

Chargers 14, Steelers 10 — 1:09 second quarter

Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone, beating cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in tight coverage to cut into the Chargers’ lead.

The perfect lob into the corner of the end zone by Ben Roethlisberger capped off a quick, seven-play, 64-yard drive.

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Chargers extend lead on another Austin Ekeler touchdown

Chargers 14, Steelers 3 — 3:42 second quarter

Justin Herbert connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler to extend the Chargers’ lead in the second quarter. It was Ekeler’s second TD of the game.

The touchdown came at the end of an impressive, 12-play, 98-yard drive that included an 18-yard pass to Keenan Allen and a 18-yard run by Herbert.

The Chargers made a huge defensive stop at the goal line to kick off the drive, stopping Pittsburgh on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line.

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Chargers take lead on Austin Ekeler’s touchdown

Chargers 7, Steelers 3 — 2:09 first quarter

Austin Ekeler scored on a six-yard run to push the Chargers into the lead late in the first quarter.

The 12-play, 73-yard drive marched through the Pittsburgh defense with some ease, with Justin Herbert and Co. converting on three third downs.

So far, so good for the Chargers’ offense.

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Steelers take early lead on Chris Boswell field goal

Steelers 3, Chargers 0 — 8:29 first quarter

Chris Boswell kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Pittsburgh Steelers the early lead after the Chargers put the brakes on Pittsburgh’s opening drive.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers chipped away at the Chargers before a couple of incomplete passes ended the drive after 13 plays and 57 yards.

The Steelers didn’t really test the Chargers’ last-ranked run defense, choosing to pass the ball seven times after getting hardly anything on the ground.

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Brandon Staley and Chargers in a rush to improve last-ranked run defense

Chargers coach Brandon Staley watches from the sideline during a loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 14.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

A year ago at this time, he was coordinating a defense that would finish the season leading the NFL in fewest points and yards allowed.

The 2020 Rams were the third-toughest team against which to convert a third down.

Now as head coach of the Chargers — a job he landed in part because of his defense’s performance last year — Brandon Staley’s latest version remains very much under construction.

The 2021 Chargers are fourth against the pass but rank last in rushing yards permitted. Only two teams have surrendered a higher conversion rate on third down.

Among the 10 worst defenses in average points allowed per game, the Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders are the only teams with winning records.

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Chargers seek improved play, execution against Steelers

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert prepares for a snap against the New England Patriots on Oct. 31.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Sputtering some and searching even more, the Chargers would benefit Sunday if someone could carry their offense.

Then again, given the way things are going, the guy might drop it.

In losing three of their last four games, the Chargers have been unable to sustain offensive rhythm, with poor execution too often short-circuiting the best of their plans.

As a snapshot of those struggles, consider that Mike Williams and Keenan Allen have combined to drop 13 passes. No wide receiver pair in the NFL this season has more.

In a 27-20 loss last weekend to Minnesota, the Chargers had four glaring drops, one by Williams, who probably would have scored on the play.

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Inactives for Steelers vs. Chargers at SoFi Stadium

Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph warms up before a loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 17.
(Larry French / Associated Press)

Linval Joseph is inactive for the Chargers’ game tonight against Pittsburgh.

The defensive lineman is dealing with a shoulder injury. His absence leaves an even bigger hole for the Chargers up front.

Starting defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and backup Christian Covington also are out Sunday because both are on the COVID-19 reserve list.

The Chargers signed Breiden Fehoko off their practice squad during the week and activated defensive lineman Andrew Brown and Forrest Merrill off the practice squad Saturday.

Running back Justin Jackson will return against the Steelers. He missed two games because of a quadriceps issue.

The Chargers’ other inactives: safety Alohi Gilman (quadriceps), defensive back Mark Webb Jr. (knee), running back Joshua Kelley, quarterback Easton Stick, offensive lineman Trey Pipkins III and fullback Gabe Nabers.

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‘Bigger than sports’: Former Steelers safety Robert Golden starts school in Fresno

VIDEO | 02:45
Robert Golden on the purpose of Golden Charter Academy

Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Robert Golden talks about why he started Golden Charter Academy in Fresno after his NFL playing career.

FRESNO — Lots of professional athletes grapple with the idea of what they will do when their playing careers end.

For Robert Golden, the answer was academic.

Golden, who spent six seasons as a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring in 2018, founded a tuition-free charter school in his hometown to service the underprivileged children of the southwest Fresno neighborhoods where he was raised.

The school, Golden Charter Academy (GCA), opened in August and has 186 students ranging from transitional kindergarten through third grade. The plan is to add one grade level every year until it’s kindergarten through eighth.

The school’s colors? Black and gold, naturally, just like the Steelers.

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Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers on-field matchups: Which team has the edge?

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams celebrates a touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns.
Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams celebrates a touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 10. Williams has struggled to make an on-field impact in recent games.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (5-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1) match up heading into their game at 5:20 p.m. PST on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The game will be shown on NBC (Channel 4).

When Chargers have the ball: Five games into the season, Mike Williams had six touchdown receptions. He still has six. After a blazing start, Williams has slowed considerably — just like the Chargers’ offense.

“When he gets it, he produces at a high level,” fellow wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “He scores a lot. Obviously, we haven’t been scoring. It’s probably got to do with Mike not getting the ball.”

The Chargers have averaged slightly fewer than 20 points per game while losing three of four. Pittsburgh’s defense ranks eighth in points allowed and ninth against the pass, meaning things might not get much easier for Williams and the rest. Over these last four games, Williams has only 10 receptions for 137 yards, and he picked up 49 of those yards on one play.

“I think it’s more just a little bit of randomness as far as the way the defense is playing,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of Williams’ lacking production. “Is he going to have a 10-catch game every week? Probably not. But I do expect those numbers to start creeping up again.”

The Steelers will be without pass rusher T.J. Watt (hip/knee) and cornerback Joe Haden (foot) and perhaps safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID-19 list). Looking for renewed offensive life, the Chargers will take whatever breaks come their way.

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Chargers vs. Steelers: Betting lines, odds, spread and how to watch

Steelers at Chargers (-6, Over/Under 47), 5:20 p.m., NBC

Neither team was impressive last week, as the Chargers were outgained by 128 yards in their loss to the Vikings, and the Steelers could muster no late offense at home in a tie with the hapless Lions. The Chargers have been the worst team in the league against the run, giving up 155 yards per game on the ground. The Steelers have struggled on offense and are 27th in the league, averaging five yards per play.

The under is 21-3-1 (87.5%) in Pittsburgh’s last 25 games on the road against weak defensive teams giving up more than 24.5 points per game. For whatever reason, the Pittsburgh offense just rarely clicks on the road anymore. It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback. However, the Steelers are still playing very good defense on the road. The result has been a lot of unders. Looking at this season’s numbers alone, the three Pittsburgh road games have produced an average of just 36 points. This week’s total is over 10 points higher than that, and the Chargers’ offense isn’t clicking the way it did earlier in the season.

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Chargers activate Joey Bosa, Drue Tranquill off COVID-19 list

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa looks on before a loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 14.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers activated edge rusher Joey Bosa and linebacker Drue Tranquill off the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday, clearing the way for them to play against Pittsburgh.

Barring any unforeseen issues, both will be available for the game Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.

Bosa went on the COVID list Tuesday as a close contact of teammate Jerry Tillery. Coach Brandon Staley said twice during the week that Bosa had continued to test negative.

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