In a crazy, back-and-fourth fourth quarter, Justin Herbert and the Chargers outlasted Ben Roethlisberger and the visiting Steelers 41-37. After watching their 17-point lead evaporate, Herbert responded by hitting Mike Williams for the game-winning, 53-yard touchdown pass with 2:17 left. Two sacks on Roethlisberger on Pittsburgh’s last drive sealed the Chargers’ sixth win of the season.
The Chargers appeared to be on their way to an easy win after taking a 27-10 lead with 3:44 left in the third quarter. The Steelers responded with 27 fourth quarter points that included two touchdown passes from Roethlisberger. The second touchdown pass, set up by Cam Heyward’s tipped pass the was intercepted by Cam Sutton, tied the score with 4:23 left. The Steelers’ scoring spree was set up by Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt at the start of the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh trailing 27-13.
After Najee Harris parlayed the blocked put into a one-yard touchdown run, the Chargers took a 34-20 lead after Austin Ekeler scored his fourth touchdown of the night. Pittsburgh countered with consecutive touchdown passes from Roethlisberger, who returned to action after missing last week’s game after testing positive for COVID-19. The Steelers then took their first lead since the first quarter on Chris Boswell’s 45-yard field goal after Pittsburgh’s defense forced a turnover on downs. But three plays after Boswell’s field goal, Herbert found a wide-open Williams for the game-winning score.
In a fast-paced first half, the Chargers took 17-10 lead into intermission. Ekeler scored both of the Chargers’ first-half touchdowns while helping Los Angeles jump out to a 14-3 lead. The Steelers countered with two scoring drives that included Roethlisberger’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson on Pittsburgh’s third possession. The Chargers’ offense ended the first half with Dustin Hopkins’ 30-yard field goal.
After Boswell gave the Steelers an early 3-0 lead, Ekeler’s 2-yard touchdown run capped off the Chargers’ 12-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Ekeler’s 10-yard touchdown pass on the Chargers’ second drive extended their lead to 14-3. The 12-play, 98-yard drive came after Derwin James and Joe Gaziano combined to stuff Freiermuth on fourth and goal. Pittsburgh responded with a seven-play, 84-yard drive that was punctuated by Johnson’s fourth touchdown of the season.
Here’s a full breakdown from what transpired at SoFi Stadium.
Why the Chargers won
Los Angeles received a big game from each of their main offensive playmakers. Herbert became the first player in NFL history to throw for 382 yards and run for 90 yards. His 36-yard carry set up Ekeler’s fourth touchdown of the game.
Ekeler, who caught and ran for two touchdowns apiece, amassed 115 all-purpose yards on just 17 touches. Keenan Allen caught nine passes for 112 yards, while Williams caught five passes for 97 yards that included the game-winning touchdown.
They weren’t great, but the Chargers’ defense did come up with two key red zone stops in the first half that included James and Gaziano’s fourth down stop of Pat Freiermuth. They also forced a field goal after Joe Schobert’s fourth down stuff of Ekeler with 3:48 left and the score tied at 34 all. Joey Bosa had one of the Chargers’ two sacks on Pittsburgh’s final offensive drive that ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Why the Steelers lost
Pittsburgh’s defense could not overcome the absences of starters T.J. Watt, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The unit allowed the Chargers to score on each of their first five possessions. The absence of Haden and Fitzpatrick was especially felt on Herbert’s game-winning touchdown pass to Williams, who was wide open down the near sideline. The unit had no answer for Herbert, who made almost as many plays with his legs as he did with his arm.
While Sunday marked the first time the Steelers scored 30 points this season, they left some points on the board after having to settle for field goals on two of their drives inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line. They also failed to get much going on the ground, as Harris ran for 39 of Pittsburgh’s 55 yards before leaving the game midway through the fourth quarter. Harris left the game after sustaining a hit to the head after making a reception.
Pittsburgh received a solid game from Roethlisberger, who has nine touchdowns and no interceptions over his last five games. Johnson caught seven passes for 101 yards, while Chase Claypool caught five passes for 93 yards.
Fans at home were probably ready to call it a night after the Chargers stretched their lead to 27-10 near the end of the third quarter. But Killebrew’s blocked punt ignited a 27-point fourth quarter for the Steelers, who were one defensive stop away from winning their first game in franchise history after trailing by 17-plus points in the fourth quarter.
Play of the game
Pittsburgh had the lead for less than a minute before Herbert hit Williams for the game-winning score. Herbert immediately realized that Sutton sat on the route that allowed Williams to be wide open downfield. Williams then outran rookie Tre Norwood (who started in place of Fitzpatrick) to the end zone.
“He can do everything. He makes our offense so much better and he opens everything up. To have him out of the backfield, you know something good’s going to happen. Whenever he’s out on the field, you’re glad he’s on your team.” — Herbert, speaking to NBC Sports after the game, about Ekeler.
“We had a call on, I’m not going to get into specifics of the call, and just didn’t execute the call. At a critical point in the game we have to all be on the same page and not have any miscommunications. It just didn’t get done.” — Sutton on what happened on Williams’ game-winning touchdown, via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Steelers will head to southern Ohio to face the Bengals, who defeated the Steelers 24-10 back in Week 3. Los Angeles will travel to Denver to face the Broncos in the first of two games this season against their division rivals.