The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the Week 11 prime time showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers in a unique situation. Coming off a 16-16 tie to the Detroit Lions in Week 10, losing in L.A. would put the team behind the proverbial 8-ball in the AFC North division, and also drop them in the divisional standings.
With plenty going against them, like a defense without Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt, the Steelers were hoping to pull off a big-time upset on Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers received the opening kickoff after losing the coin toss, and Ben Roethlisberger took the field for the first time since the Week 9 win over the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Roethlisberger looked comfortable from the first snap, and was able to move the ball into Los Angeles territory with several key third down conversions. The drive stalled in the red-zone and the Steelers settled for a 36-yard Chris Boswell field goal to make the score 3-0 with 8:29 left in the opening quarter.
Justin Herbert wasn’t bothered by the Steelers’ opening drive, and came out determined to put together one of his own. He did, but his didn’t end in a field goal, but a touchdown. Austin Ekeler scored a 6-yard touchdown for the first touchdown of the game. The extra point was good, making the score 7-3 with 2:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Steelers’ second drive continued through the change of the quarters, and it looked as if Pittsburgh was ready to match the Chargers’ first quarter touchdown. An underthrown pass to a wide open Chase Claypool resulted in the Steelers offense looking at first and goal from the six-yard line. They ran four plays, and failed to score, keeping the score 7-3 after the turnover on downs.
Herbert’s second drive of the game looked a lot like his first. This time, he took the Chargers’ offense 98-yards down the field and capped off the impressive drive with a pass to Austin Ekeler for what was a way-too-easy drive for the second year quarterback. The point after made the score 14-3 with 3:42 left in the first half.
Despite it being the first half, the following Steelers’ drive had the feel of a must-have drive before the end of the first half. With the Pittsburgh defense looking less than stellar, Roethlisberger had big completions to Diontae Johnson to move the ball into Los Angeles territory. It was fitting the drive ended in a beautiful catch by Johnson in the corner of the end zone for the Steelers’ first touchdown of the game.
Chris Boswell’s point-after was good, making the score 14-10 with 1:09 left in the second quarter.
Who would have thought the Steelers scored too quick, but that’s exactly what happened. Herbert continued to shred the Pittsburgh defense, but fortunately for the Steelers the drive ended in a field goal, not a touchdown, for the first time in the game. The kick made the score 17-10 heading into halftime.
Los Angeles received the kickoff to start the second half, and if the Steelers made defensive adjustments you wouldn’t know it. Why? Because Justin Herbert continued to shred the Steelers on third downs en route to another touchdown. Another touchdown pass to Ekeler, his third of the game, made the score 24-10.
After a Steelers’ three and out resulted in the first punt of the game, Herbert was able to add more points to the Chargers’ total. This time just a field goal made the score 27-10 with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
The Steelers were on the cusp of the red-zone as the game flipped to the fourth quarter, but the offense could muster nothing but another Boswell field goal. The kick was good, making the score 27-13 with 14:10 left in regulation.
Herbert and company were forced to punt for the first time in the game, and after offsetting penalties had the punt re-kicked, Miles Killebrew knifed through the line and blocked the punt. The ball rolled out of bounds at the 5-yard line, and set the offense up for an easy score. But nothing comes easy for this Steelers offense, and it took a defensive pass interference call on 4th down which gave the offense new life. The next play was a Najee Harris touchdown run to make the score 27-20 with 11:35 remaining in the 4th quarter.
Could the Steelers forced another punt? Herbert showed this was nothing more than a pipe dream. This drive was highlighted by Herbert’s legs, and it ended in a very familiar way. With a Austin Ekeler touchdown, his fourth of the game. The score became 34-20 in the blink of an eye, with 8:48 left in regulation.
Refusing to lay down and die, the Steelers’ offense continued to move the ball on the Chargers defense. After Najee Harris was knocked out of the game, Roethlisberger started finding Eric Ebron. Ebron had a catch which set up the Steelers inside the 10-yard line, and then the clutch third down touchdown reception to make the score 34-27 with 4:49 left in the 4th quarter.
The Steelers defense needed a play, and they turned to their only All-Pro in the lineup, Cam Heyward. Heyward batted a Herbert pass up in the air, and it was intercepted by Cam Sutton, setting up the offense in the red-zone. Three plays later it was Roethlisberger finding Pat Freiermuth for the game-tying score.
Boswell’s point-after was good, and the Steelers tied the game 34-34 with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter.
Everyone expected Herbert to pick up right where he left off, and when faced with a 4th and 1 on their own side of the field, the Chargers decided to go for it. Joe Schobert knifed through the line and made the stop, giving the Steelers’ offense the ball back. The offense wasn’t able to score a touchdown, but did get enough yardage for a 45-yard Chris Boswell field goal to give Pittsburgh their first lead of the game, 37-34 with 3:24 left in regulation.
It didn’t take the Chargers long to answer. In fact, it took just over a minute before Herbert hit Mike Williams for a 53-yard touchdown to make the score 41-37 with 2:09 left in regulation.
Needing a drive, the Steelers surrendered two straight sacks and failed on fourth down to lose the game 41-31. The loss moves the Steelers’ record to 5-4-1 on the season as they now prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 12. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they move on throughout the regular season.