PITTSBURGH – Now that was a lightning bolt.
What an amazing comeback for the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night, who rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to stun the Steelers, 33-30.
It started with an essential tip-drill touchdown catch by Keenan Allen and ended with Michael Badgley’s 29-yard field goal (preceded by two offsides penalties on Pittsburgh) with no time on the clock. In between, the Chargers got a 73-yard punt return score from Desmond King and clutch impact from rookie running back Justin Jackson off the bench.
And they had Philip Rivers.
The Chargers’ veteran quarterback passed for 299 yards and 2 TDs and calmly directed the 11-play, 64-yard field goal drive that won the contest.
The result improved Los Angeles to 9-3 and surely ramps up the drama for Pittsburgh (7-4-1), which suffered its second crushing loss in a row.
Three other things we learned:
1. Melvin Gordon was missed, but…
The entire task was not left for Austin Ekeler to carry, as the Chargers’ lead running back was idled by a sprained knee. Jackson, the seventh-round rookie, provided a huge boost late in the game, sparking a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with the type of pop off the bench that was typically the mark of Ekeler’s impact. Jackson (8 carries, 63 yards) ripped off an 18-yard run early on the 79-yard drive, then on the next play took a short flip from Rivers and turned it into a 19-yard gain. He capped the drive with an 18-yard TD run that will be remembered for his open-field juke of safety Terrell Edmunds.
No doubt, the Chargers needed it while trying to fill the huge shoes of Gordon, who ranked fourth in the NFL through Week 12 with 125.5 yards from scrimmage per game. Although Ekeler entered Sunday night with more yards from scrimmage (763) than any player in the NFL this season with one or fewer starts, he ran into a virtual Steel Curtain. Check out Ekeler’s eight first-half rushing attempts: 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, -3, 1, 1. That’s a 1-yard net. He finished with 21 rushing yards, but in the end two backs subbing were much better than one.
2. Derwin James is still the man to beat for NFL defensive rookie of the year honors
The Chargers’ first-round safety stated his case before a national audience with a phenomenal performance that paced an otherwise stellar outing from the secondary. If he wasn’t wrapping up on open-field tackles (hello, James Conner), he was hauling in a duck for an interception (hi, Ben Roethlisberger) and laying wood to prevent a big reception by knocking a special receiver out of bounds before he could execute a patented toe-top (that was you, Antonio Brown). As he has been all season, James was simply all over the field.
3. Missed calls matter
The officiating crew headed by Bill Vinovich was asleep at the wheel when Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi jumped before a snap late in the first quarter. No flag. No false start. And Rivers took full advantage of the gaffe, throwing deep (and pretty) to connect with Travis Benjamin for a 46-yard touchdown that put Los Angeles on the scoreboard for the first time. It would have been worse if the blunder determined the game. But it was bad enough when considering that on the previous play the officials might have also missed at least one Pittsburgh defender crossing into the neutral zone before the snap.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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