Chargers’ struggles against James Conner play big role in loss to Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, left, sprints past Chargers outside linebacker Jatavis Brown for a touchdown during the second quarter of the Chargers' 24-17 loss Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner jogged the last handful of yards in the second quarter Sunday night with nothing between him and a sea of black jerseys and gold towels in the north end zone stands.

Behind him, Chargers defenders pulled up too. They weren’t close enough to reach him.

The one Charger who could have, Jatavis Brown, was flat on the Dignity Health Sports Park grass. Moments before, he had Conner right in front of him, a key third-down stop within his grasp.

Instead, he whiffed.

That missed tackle didn’t cost the Chargers the game. They already were down two scores and the offense never put any real pressure on Pittsburgh in the Chargers’ 24-17 loss. But Brown’s error was emblematic of an issue the Chargers didn’t get right all night.


In the first quarter when the game was still close, Conner caught a short pass in the flat on third down. Cornerback Michael Davis had him squared up, lunged and missed. Conner gained the first down and, one player later, rushed 12 yards for a score.

Held scoreless through three quarters while Pittsburgh fans take over their home turf, the Chargers can’t rally from a 24-point deficit, falling to the Steelers 24-17 for their fourth loss of the season.

Oct. 13, 2019

And later, Brown missed one on a third-and-five near midfield that would’ve led to a punt. Instead, Pittsburgh went on to take a 21-0 lead.

“Those are backbreakers,” Davis said.

Conner was a problem for the Chargers’ passing game, particularly on third down. Five of his Pittsburgh-leading seven catches came on third down. Three of those led to first downs with another turning into an easy touchdown.

No other Steeler caught more than two passes or gained more than 14 yards.

Henry returns

The Chargers’ offense had a rough night, and if tight end Hunter Henry hadn’t returned after missing the last four games with an injured knee it could have been worse.

Henry, who suffered a tibia plateau fracture in his left knee during the season opener, made an immediate impact, catching a 19-yard seam pass on the Chargers’ first play.

He was by far the Chargers’ most dangerous player, finishing with eight catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns — all career highs.

Henry said he didn’t expect to play as much as he did, but came out of the game feeling pretty good physically. His teammates hope Henry’s presence in the passing game can make things easier on everyone else.


“Hunter did his thing tonight,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “The good thing about that is everybody’s seen it, including our next opponent, so maybe they’ll back up a little bit and it open some things for the run game.”

Henry missed almost all of 2018 with an ACL injury and was expected to be a key part of the Chargers’ offense this year before getting hurt in Week 1.


As expected, defensive end Melvin Ingram didn’t play because of a hamstring injury. … Jason Moore, who the team promoted from its practice squad Saturday, had his first career catches, grabbing two passes for 43 yards. … Wide receiver Mike Williams limped off the field late in the fourth quarter, barely making it to the sidelines before getting attention. Williams returned for the Chargers’ final drive. … Starting offensive tackle Trent Scott limped off the field following the Chargers’ last play with what appeared to be an ankle injury.