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

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams outraces Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Tre Norwood to score on a 53-yard touchdown.
Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams outraces Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Tre Norwood to score on a 53-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ 41-37 victory Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(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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“I’m extremely proud of our football team, as proud as I’ve been of our football team the entire year,” coach Brandon Staley said. “That environment was really, really challenging for us.”

Before Herbert and Williams made their late connection, the Chargers had unraveled in the fateful fourth, their offense stalling, their defense unable to make a stop and their special teams having a punt blocked.

Herbert finished 30 for 41 for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran nine times for a career-best 90 yards, continually extending drives and flustering the Steelers.


Austin Ekeler scored the Chargers’ other four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air. It was his first four-score game.

The entertaining and flip-flopping fourth quarter even included the bizarre, when Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cameron Heyward was called for unnecessary roughness after punching Herbert.

The incident followed Herbert’s longest run of the night — 36 yards — with slightly more than nine minutes remaining. The dash converted a third and five and set up the Chargers inside the red zone.

After tackling Herbert, Heyward remained on top of the Chargers quarterback before receiver Joshua Palmer attempted to pull him off. Heyward then punched Herbert in the stomach, drawing the flag.

 Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) scores a touchdown as teammate Jared Cook watches.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) scores a touchdown as teammate Jared Cook watches.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

On the next play, Ekeler scored his fourth touchdown on a five-yard run to put the Chargers up 34-20.

But Pittsburgh answered right back — with Heyward again directly involved. First, the Steelers went 75 yards in nine plays and scored on a five-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Eric Ebron.

On the second play of the Chargers’ next possession, Herbert was intercepted when Heyward batted his pass into the air. The ball hung up long enough for cornerback Cameron Sutton to secure it at the Chargers’ 11.

After a roughing-the-passer penalty on Joey Bosa and an incompletion, Roethlisberger hit Pat Freiermuth for a five-yard score to tie it 34-34 with 4:28 to go.

Staley said the Chargers sticking together was the key very late.

The Chargers held on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 41-37 at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Here are 13 photos that capture the game’s biggest moments.

Nov. 21, 2021

“When it was tight and the crowd was going crazy against us, our guys were ready for a fight,” he said. “It turned into a wild ride. But we were ready for it.”

The Chargers’ offense had scored on six of its first seven possessions, regaining all the rhythm and timing it had misplaced for stretches while losing three of four games entering Sunday.

But suddenly that all stopped, leading with the interception. On the Chargers’ next possession, they moved out to their 34-yard line and were facing fourth and one.

Staley opted to go for the first down, an attempt that failed when Ekeler was brought down for no gain.

With all the momentum, Pittsburgh’s offense returned to the field but was unable to put the ball back in the end zone. Instead, Chris Boswell’s 45-yard field goal gave the Steelers a 37-34 edge.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 41-37 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Nov. 21, 2021

It was Pittsburgh’s first lead since 3-0 in the first quarter.

After Herbert and Williams gave the Chargers back the lead, the Steelers’ final series went nowhere. Kyler Fackrell and Bosa both had sacks as the Chargers finally stopped Pittsburgh, which had scored on each of its previous five possessions.

Keenan Allen finished with nine receptions for 112 yards. The Chargers amassed 33 first downs and 533 total yards. They averaged 7.7 yards on each of their 69 plays.

Ranked last in the NFL in rushing defense, the Chargers also limited the Steelers to 55 yards on 18 attempts despite being depleted along their front.

They were without starting defensive linemen Linval Joseph (shoulder injury) and Jerry Tillery, who remains on the COVID-19 reserve list. They also were missing backup Christian Covington (COVID 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.

“When the fourth quarter happened the way it did, our guys stayed connected,” Staley said. “We played our best at the end. We finished the game on our terms.”

They did, just barely.