The Los Angeles Chargers gave away a 17-point fourth quarter lead. Even for the Chargers, who have become synonymous with weird and awful losses, losing after that would have been spectacularly bad.
The Pittsburgh Steelers just couldn’t finish. Justin Herbert hit Mike Williams on a 53-yard touchdown when the Steelers made a mistake on a blitz, leaving him wide open, and that was the game-winning play with a little more than two minutes left in a wild 41-37 Chargers win.
The Steelers battled. They were down three defensive stars, and presumably with those players they wouldn’t have given up four touchdowns to Austin Ekeler or the go-ahead score to Williams. It was a valiant effort for a shorthanded team. The Chargers are just happy they didn’t have an epic collapse.
Chargers avoid historic collapse
NBC said the Chargers had never come back from a deficit of at least 17 points in the fourth quarter. They were 0-230 before Sunday in that situation. The Chargers tried to give them their first win.
Los Angeles led 27-10 to start the fourth quarter. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden, all elite defensive players, were all inactive for the Steelers. That was bad news against a Chargers offense that can be a little inconsistent, but has the ability to move the ball up and down the field.
That’s how it started. After a Steelers field goal, the Chargers had a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped by an Ekeler touchdown. Then a 12-play, 98-yard drive capped by an Ekeler touchdown. The Chargers started the third quarter with a six-play, 70-yard drive capped by an Ekeler touchdown.
The Steelers didn’t seem to have any answers, but they didn’t give up. They got a huge blocked punt in the fourth quarter, when they trailed 27-13, and it rolled out of bounds at the 3-yard line. They got a pass interference call on fourth-and-goal and then Najee Harris scored a touchdown to cut the Chargers’ lead to 27-20. But, with the Steelers missing so many defensive playmakers, Herbert ran for a 36-yard gain on third-and-5. Ekeler scored his fourth touchdown on the next play. The Chargers led by 14 then and it seemed like that would put away the Steelers.
But the Chargers are the Chargers. No win for them is ever a lock.
Steelers battle back
The Steelers got a touchdown back with Eric Ebron scoring from five yards out. Then came a big interception. The Chargers had a pass fly high in the air when it bounced off Cameron Heyward’s helmet and it was picked off on a diving catch by safety Cam Sutton. The Chargers took a personal foul on the tackle of Sutton, and then Joey Bosa took a personal foul for roughing the passer on the next play. With 4:23 left, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth scored a touchdown to tie it.
On the Chargers’ next possession they went for it on fourth-and-inches in their own territory, and Ekeler was stopped cold. It was a calculated gamble and it didn’t work. When you go for it as often as Chargers coach Brandon Staley does, that will happen. It seemed like that decision would be the talking point of a terrible loss.
That practically handed the Steelers the lead. Their drive didn’t go far but Chris Boswell got a 45-yard field goal with 3:24 left. That still left the Chargers with plenty of time. Herbert found Williams on the coverage bust for the score. The Chargers got sacks on back-to-back plays after that and the Steelers couldn’t pick up a first down to keep the drive going.
The Steelers probably would have won if they had all their defensive players. The Chargers should feel fortunate they didn’t make more bad history with another memorable loss.