The Pittsburgh Steelers stunned the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium with a game-winning touchdown as the clock expired in a 24-20 victory on Monday Night Football. Running back Le’Veon Bell received the final snap in a Wildcat formation, waited for a hole to open up and fought for the goal line as he extended the ball to clinch the win.
Bell ended up with 111 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards. Had he ran for 110, the Steelers would have lost and dropped to 2-3. Instead, they are 3-2 and well within striking distance of the 5-0 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
Interestingly, the NFL avoided some timing controversy because Bell found the end zone. Had the clock expired and Pittsburgh lost, it likely would have been forced to answer to this update from former Vice President of Officiating and current analyst at Fox Sports Mike Pereira:
Bell wasn’t the only hero for the victorious Steelers. Michael Vick threw for 203 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Ben Roethlisbergerand shook off some early struggles to come through when it mattered most. John Breech of CBS Sports highlighted Vick’s ability to carry the offense at winning time:
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin also deserves plenty of credit for electing to go for the victory on the road instead of attempting a field goal to try to tie the game and force overtime. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reacted to the decision:
The Steelers’ final drive nullified Chargers kicker Josh Lambo’s heroic effort after he drilled a 54-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining to give San Diego the lead. It also overshadowed an excellent game by tight end Antonio Gates, who finished with 92 receiving yards and two scores.
The Chargers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard with a touchdown on their first drive of the game. Gates hauled in his 100th career scoring catch and joined Tony Gonzalez as the only two players at their position to crack the century mark.
The fact that the score came in the first quarter of Gates’ first game back from a four-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy made it all the more impressive. The NFL provided a highlight of the historic catch:
Pittsburgh trimmed the lead to 7-3 by halftime, but the offense stalled for much of the third quarter behind Vick. Peter Bukowski of Sports Illustrated didn’t think Roethlisberger’s injury was a valid excuse for a unit that features Bell and Antonio Brown:
Fortunately for the Steelers, their defense found the end zone when Antwon Blake picked off a Philip Rivers pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter. Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune praised Blake’s instincts and pointed out the pick-six was nothing new from Rivers:
Despite the deflating interception, San Diego bounced back to tie the game at 10 on the ensuing possession. What’s more, the Pittsburgh offense continued to scuffle, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report wondered if it was time to make a change:
Pittsburgh’s offensive ineptitude presented the Chargers with a golden opportunity, and Rivers took advantage with a touchdown drive for a 17-10 lead with eight minutes remaining. He capped the 60-yard drive with another strike to Gates, this time from 11 yards out.
Vick responded with a gutsy drive, leading the Steelers down the field. He picked up a huge first down with his legs and then connected with Heath Miller inside the 1-yard line with five seconds remaining.
Pittsburgh elected to go for the victory instead of trying to force overtime with a chip-shot field goal, and it put the ball in Bell’s hands with the game on the line. Rather than hand it to him, the Steelers snapped it directly to the running back in a Wildcat formation, and he danced until a hole opened up. He then stretched the ball over the goal line to win the game in dramatic fashion.
This was a critical victory for the Steelers because they have to play the 4-1 Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. A loss in Monday’s game would have pushed Pittsburgh three games behind the undefeated Bengals, and playing the dominant Cardinals is no easy proposition, especially if Roethlisberger is still out with his knee injury.
As for the Chargers, they are also chasing an unbeaten team in the AFC West. The Denver Broncos have won every game even though quarterback Peyton Manning is nowhere near the unstoppable force he was in his prime. That means 2-3 San Diego may have to set its sights on a wild-card spot, even though there is plenty of time remaining in the season.
That makes the head-to-head loss to the Steelers all the more important because it could prove critical if both teams find themselves in wild-card contention as the Bengals and Broncos run away with their respective divisions.
The Chargers must face the undefeated Green Bay Packers in Week 6. Best of luck trying to get over Monday’s loss in time to find a way to deal with Aaron Rodgers in six days.
The talk from Pittsburgh’s side following the victory was naturally about Tomlin’s decision to go for the win instead of the tie. Bell said, “We knew we were going for it,” per Will Brinson of CBS Sports.
Tomlin also commented on his call, per SportsCenter: “I’m hoping that I have time… But we have to run the ball. We have Le’Veon Bell. We’re on the road, we have to play to win.”
The Pittsburgh coach was also asked about his decision to keep Vick in the game despite his monumental struggles through the first three quarters. The move paid off, and Tomlin said, “Cause he’s Mike, man. He’s got a career of highlights like that,” when describing his trust in the quarterback, per NFL Network.
As for the Chargers, coach Mike McCoy was ready to look ahead in the immediate aftermath, per the team’s Twitter page: “It was a tough loss. But we have a short week, we have to move on.”
Rivers suggested as much, per the team: “We know we’ve got our hands full. We have to go in next week ready to roll.”