Game Recap: Turbo-Charged Defense Pulls Out a Win for the Steelers
I had a dress rehearsal last evening, and I don’t have cable, so I had to head out after rehearsal to a local hostelry, where I got a refreshing drink, (club soda and lime, sorry, I’m a wuss,) ordered dinner, and waited to see what would happen. I got to the bar just after the beginning of half time, and from the score at that point (3-7, Chargers) it looked as if I hadn’t missed much.
The patrons surrounding me were a tad on the morose side by the time the third quarter began, having come (correctly) to the conclusion the Steelers couldn’t get a ball in the end zone. All Bell All the Time is great for a while, but eventually you have to convince the other team that you are actually capable of completing more than the (very) occasional pass.
But the defense, who I assumed must have been playing very well indeed to have held the Chargers to a single touchdown, soon took matters into their own hands—or, more precisely, the football. Jarvis Jones, who ended the game with four tackles and a sack, also forced a fumble which was recovered by one of our other “busts,” Shamarko Thomas.
But as so frequently seems to be the case, the offense took the proffered gift and went three and out. So the defense trots back onto the field after a fabulous punt by Jordan Berry which Ross Ventrone downed at the SD 4 yard line.
The defense gave up a first down but then shut the door, and the Pittsburgh offense returned to the field. I hope the defense didn’t bother to sit down on the sidelines, because by this time we all knew they were going to be right back on the field. And sure enough, next thing you know Jordan Berry is punting again, this time to the SD 5 yard line, downed by Ross Ventrone.
At this point the tongues were hanging out of the mouths of the poor linemen, but they went back out, and after giving up four first downs, so that the Chargers were at the the PIT 46, it was 3rd and 12. Morose Guy on my right goes, “Interception here,” and sure enough they managed to bait Rivers into throwing a pick, this time to Antwan Blake.
We were all screaming and yelling for him to take it to the house, because we were quite sure at this point the offense was never going to see the Chargers end zone except on the Jumbotron. In what was possibly the slowest and most agonizing 70 yards ever run by a defensive back, Blake managed to get it in.
As shouts of jubilation rang out, the bartender, who had apparently been having a bad day, started yelling about the slowness and gracelessness with which Blake ran. I pointed out to him that Blake had in fact scored, and that this was a good thing, but he couldn’t let it go. Eventually we all began to discuss his anger issues, which probably didn’t make it better.
And speaking of things not getting better, Mike Mitchell was injured in the next San Diego series. (I later discovered that Will Allen had gotten hurt during the first half as well.)
And while the poor exhausted defense didn’t keep the Chargers from scoring, they did hold them to a field goal, which was impressive under the circumstances. And, naturally, they were back on the field less than a minute later. This time they gave up a long drive culminating in a touchdown, the score is 10-17, and things are looking even more bleak.
After a nice kick return of 32 yards by Dri Archer, the offense is back on the field. I’m imagining a conversation on the sidelines between Vick and James Harrison, which went something like this:
“Have you all noticed we’re exhausted here?! Have you noticed that we have been on the field for approximately 17 and a half of the past 22 minutes of game time?! How about you pull your weight around here? I would hate to have to eviscerate you on the team bus…” Or words to that effect.
Whatever whoever said it clearly put the fear of God into the offense, because they went out and put a touchdown on the board. There was only one hitch—it took all of 13 seconds, including the extra point kick. Something tells me that while Harrison was undoubtedly pleased about the score, he wasn’t too thrilled about running out there again.
After another three-minute San Diego drive the Chargers bang in another field goal. The fact that it was a field goal, however, turned out to be huge.
You couldn’t have scripted it any better. Michael Vick took off when a play broke down and ran for 24 nearly unobstructed yards. With 12 seconds left on the clock Heath Miller should have had a touchdown, if not for a remarkably egregious helmet to helmet hit which I hope Heath is okay from. I’m expecting Joseph Addae to be receiving a Fed Ex from the league this week to go along with the penalty. With five seconds on the clock the Steelers lined up at the half-yard line in the very popular Wildcat formation, snapped the ball to No. 26, and, miracle of miracles, he got it in. If he hadn’t, there would have been no time left for a field goal attempt. He got a little help from his friends on the San Diego Chargers defense, as one of them had their arm under his leg, thus preventing him from being downed before he got the ball across the line.
Ivan just sent me his notes and impressions, which is great, because I’m running out of steam here at about 2:00 am. I’ll put his comments in italics:
As difficult as last week’s ending was, that’s how sweet it was this week. The Steelers haven’t been for the faint of heart the last two weeks.
Here is the key difference between last week and this week.
They put the ball in the hands of their best player. They won. Funny how that tends to happen from time to time.
Who were the winners tonight?
Michael Vick. For three and half quarters Vick was the favorite for being the game’s goat. He was not playing well. Fortunately, the Chargers secondary had a bad case of Ike Taylor disease, otherwise the game might have been a rout. But the bottom line is that when he needed to deliver he did, and he did so in the manner that we associate with Vick’s strengths. A long pass to Markus Wheaton for a one play drive for a touchdown. And the key play of winning drive was made with his legs. He was named Steelers Digest Player of the Game.
Le’Veon Bell. I wouldn’t have a problem if Bell had been named Player of the Game. Besides scoring the winning points and his second 100 + game, Bell made the case in front of a national audience that he may be the best at his position in the game.
Antwon Blake. Interception return for a touchdown and general hard hitting play.
Steelers Cornerbacks. Blake’s interception along with Cockrell’s last week shows they can produce without high draft choices or stars in those position.
Markus Wheaton. The touchdown reception.
Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree. One sack apiece and an additional quarterback hit by Jones. Should slow down Jones’ critics for a couple of moments.
The Steelers defense generally. Except for the first series, played well without much in the way of help from the offense for most of the game. Who would have predicted that in August?
DeAngelo Williams. They figured out a way to get him on the field and a few touches without taking anything away from Bell.
Heath Miller. A couple of important, solid catches.
The kicking game. Jordan Berry placed a couple of punts deep. For reasons having nothing to do with his performance, Chris Boswell aggravated heart disease in Steelers Nation just preparing to do his job. (he did fine). And his kickoffs were nice and deep.
Mike Tomlin. Some grudging acknowledgement of his decision making by fans tonight. Some of it is of the ‘yes but’ nature, unfortunately Bell scored.
Which brings us to the losers.
Steelers Nation Haters. Tough loss guys. Better luck next week.
Steelers safeties. It appeared like the two touchdown passes to Gates were uncontested. Will Allen was the one significant injury. [Sorry Ivan, not true, they also lost Mike Mitchell. The safeties by the end of the third quarter were Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas. Not something anyone wanted to hear.]
Special teams (punt coverage). Too many penalties and whatever Shamarko Thomas was doing.
Antonio Brown. He doesn’t have the chemistry/connection with Vick that he enjoys with Ben. That and he suffered from the punt coverage gaffes.
Todd Haley. If they had lost his play calling decisions would have come under some unhealthy scrutiny.
Like St Louis, this is a game they probably don’t win last year. A nice road win and confidence builder on a national stage. Difficult to gauge the value of that for a young up and coming team that is trying to get to the next level. And while still difficult, there remains the possibility that they could capture the division on their own efforts alone. We will enjoy some peace and not a small amount of entertainment as haters will have to go to tortured lengths to spin this as a negative. But I have faith in their creativity. This season has become quite the ride after just five games.
This game had some notable things about it, even though it felt more like baseball in one sense—15 minutes of excitement crammed into three hours of play. It was the second hottest temperature ever at kickoff, at well over 90 degrees. Which is about 20 degrees more than the average temperature for October 12th in San Diego. (The hottest Steelers game ever was played in Phoenix in 1988, apparently.) It was very notable for being a winning effort on the West Coast—something that had never happened in the Mike Tomlin era.
And how about the kid? I mean, of course, Chris Boswell, who had to play in his first NFL game under the scrutiny of Monday Night Football and the knowledge that points might be hard to come by. He pounded all of his kickoffs in the end zone, and more to the point made a 47 yard field goal. That’s huge, actually. If we can have some level of comfort, as Mike Tomlin might say, with the placekicker, it would make the world a more beautiful place.
But most of all, it was a win, one pretty much everyone in the punditry business said they weren’t going to get.
One wouldn’t say that the San Diego Chargers were playing at full strength. They’ve had numerous injuries. But as far as I’m concerned losing your franchise quarterback pretty much trumps all of those. The Steelers’ defense came to play. Le’Veon Bell came to play, as did DeAngelo Williams. Bell had 111 yards and a touchdown—Williams only had five touches, but he gained 20 yards with them.
The defense forced two turnovers. They held the San Diego offense to 20 points, despite Antonio Gates being almost impossible to bring down. The pesky Danny Woodhead was held to 76 yards, and the running game yielded only 52 yards. In my opinion that’s fantastic. And the offense did just enough to win. James Harrison is probably shaking his head as we speak. But I suspect, like most of us he feels a win is a win. The Steelers stay alive in the division, and get the reward of preparing to play the Arizona Cardinals on a short week. So get to work, guys!