San Diego won their first regular season game in franchise history in Pittsburgh, 34-24. Don’t let the final score fool you…it was not nearly that close. Pittsburgh trimmed the deficit by scoring two garbage TDs after being trounced by San Diego in every phase of the game.
Pittsburgh played about as lackadaisically as a team could possibly play. San Diego is a poor team with a lousy head coach and an overrated quarterback. Someone tell the folks from southern California that. Pittsburgh made the Chargers look like a model NFL franchise on Sunday. The gameplan was flawless, the execution was equally brilliant, and the playcalling used a balance of grinding runs that may not have amounted to much yardage, but certainly kept Pittsburgh’s offense off the field. Then, sprinkle in a few doses of timely passing plays on inexperienced corners and voila – a perfect recipe for a road victory against a team that did not appear to care.
Late in the first quarter – SD with the ball, 3rd and 10 at the Pittsburgh 44 – consecutive offsides by Troy Polamalu and James Harrison inched the Chargers close enough for the game-opening score, a 51 Nick Novak FG with 3:06 remaining in the 1st quarter.
3:40 in the 2nd quarter – SD with the ball, 3rd and 1 at the Pittsburgh 39 – Danario Alexander badly beat Curtis Brown on a stop and go route for a 39-yard touchdown. Brown was in 1-on-1 coverage to allow Polamalu to attack a ball carrier or short passing route. This 10-0 hole put the Steelers on their heels for the rest of the day. Pittsburgh never recovered.
9 minutes, 32 seconds of hell followed by 12 seconds of something worse – The Chargers marched 78 yards on 17 plays on this triumphant opening TD drive of the 3rd quarter that deflated the lingering optimism from Pittsburgh’s field goal drive at the end of the first half. San Diego was 5 for 5 on 3rd down plays, including a 17-yard run by Ronnie Brown on 3rd and 13 that was only intended to improve the Chargers’ field goal chances. Whoops. 12 seconds after this drive concluded with a short Rivers TD pass, Ben Roethlisberger intended a screen pass for Antonio Brown deep in Steelers territory. This pass was ruled a lateral and scooped up by Quentin Jammer in the end zone for a Chargers touchdown. The score went from 13-3 to 27-3, and effectively put the nail in Pittsburgh’s coffin.
Approximately 1:00 to go in the 3rd quarter – SD with the ball, 4th and 2 at the San Diego 28 –Pittsburgh had gotten within spitting distance at 27-10 and just stopped the Chargers. The tide was turning, albeit after staggering through nearly three quarters of play. That’s when embattled San Diego head coach Norv Turner dialed up a fake punt that was the coup de grâce. Eric Weddle took the direct snap and gained four yards on the play, outracing Robert Golden to the sticks and permanently dulling the Heinz Field faithful’s hopes.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Playoff Math – Well, the Ravens and Bengals lost. So, the playoff hopes are not extinguished. It’s fairly simple math for Pittsburgh:
- If the Steelers win each of their remaining games, they are in the playoffs (as a 4, 5, or 6 seed).
- If the Steelers win two of their three remaining games (including a win against Cincinnati in two weeks), they are in the playoffs (as a 6 seed).
- If the Steelers win against Dallas and Cleveland but lose to Cincinnati, they could still make the playoffs (as a 6 seed) as long as Cincinnati loses to Baltimore in week 17.
- If the Steelers only beat the Bengals, they still have a chance, but this would welcome in a host of other teams with better conference records…and I simply don’t want to consider the endless possibilities.
There were no players who stood out as winners this week. This was a total and thorough team loss.
We Miss Ike – Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen were consistently picked on, especially on third down plays. It got so bad that Curtis Brown got yanked in the second half. Ike Taylor’s hairline ankle fracture can’t heal soon enough. Presuming Keenan Lewis will follow Dez Bryant all over the field, who is going to cover Miles Austin next week?
O-Line – There were no holes for the running game until garbage time. San Diego is solid against the run, but Ben Roethlisberger (31 rushing yards) should not be challenging for the team rushing lead by scrambling (Jonathan Dwyer – 32 rushing yards).
Pass Rush – Philp Rivers was sacked one time, and that was a force out by Ziggy Hood. His offensive tackles were Reggie Wells and Kevin Haslam, who had not started an NFL game this season. Reggie Wells was just signed off the street this week. Rivers was sacked an average of three times per game prior to Sunday.
Wide Receivers – Mike Wallace had a costly drop on a deep pass in the second quarter, as did Antonio Brown. Wallace stated after the game, “I got to catch those. It was a great throw. I tried to reach out, I just couldn’t pull it in. That’s a play Mike’s got to make, a good throw by Ben.” Brown also should have taken the safety on the lateral that San Diego recovered for a touchdown. Giving up two points is better than seven.
Third Downs – San Diego was 12 for 22 on 3rd down plays, while Pittsburgh was 2 for 9 in the first half, when the game was still in question. Talk about a 180 degree shift.
Field Position – In the first half, Pittsburgh started four of their drives inside their own 10. If you start out with a long field and don’t convert third downs, you don’t move win, period.
Two-Point Conversions – With the team down 27-9 and 34-16, Coach Tomlin elected to kick extra points. On each occasion, Pittsburgh (if successful) could have pulled within two scores. When asked about it during the postgame press conference, Tomlin said that he “didn’t want to put those plays on film” if Pittsburgh was not going to stop San Diego. Curious…considering he left Roethlisberger and the rest of the first teamers in the game.
Turnovers – None forced…again. Two more given away (lateral, and Big Ben was later picked off for the first time at home this season to set upSan Diego’s final touchdown).
Another O-Line Injury – Left guard Willie Colon may be lost for the rest of the season with a re-injured left knee.
Bad Losses –Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland, and San Diego. Add San Diego to the list of teams going nowhere that Pittsburgh fell to on the 2012 campaign. That’s not a way to gain momentum for a stretch run.
Playoffs Maybe, But… – I have said this before. Pittsburgh may make the playoffs this season, but look who their likely first round opponent would be – Peyton Manning in Denver, or Tom Brady in Foxborough. That is not a winning proposition.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.