Game Recap: Turbo-Charged Defense Pulls Out a Win for the Steelers

USA Today Sports/Charles LeClaire

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.   

The Wrap:

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!


  • Glorious victory! Gutsy call by Tomlin, thank goodness Bell made it! Phew! Don’t think AB deserves to be on the Loser list, he was very very well covered all night by the guy assigned to him, best CB San Diego has.

    What a true pleasure watching Le’Veon run wild and run free. Kudos to BR for drawing up the bomb to Wheaton, critical play. Kudos to Haley for unshackling Vick at the end and letting him run, surprised Mike didn’t take off more often. Also surprised Tomlin did not do what Gruden said he should do on the final play which was run a QB sneak with Vick and leaving enough time, hopefully, for a timeout and a tying field goal. Oh well. All’s well that ends Bell! Ha ha!

    Defense was generally outstanding in devastating heat. Loved the fans at the old Murph making a lotta noise for our beloveds. Beautiful beautiful win! This fan has been basking in it all day long here.

    Really loved hearing Jon Gruden so effusive in his praise of Mr. Cameron Heyward. Glad he got his due for a tremendous performance. Antwon Blake pick six had me laughing, just so cavalier the way he ran the ball back into the Charger end zone. Great work by DeCastro leading Bell into the end zone for the W. Such a sweet win, Vick should be 2-0 but I’ll take that win any time. You just knew if we gave Rivers a chance in OT he would end it. So happy for Tomlin, so happy the Tomlin haters have been silenced at least for a week.


    • Welcome! The game was only too exciting – as an almost 62 year old, I don’t know how many like this my heart can take : )


    • Brown isn’t a loser through any fault of his own, but because Vick doesn’t have the trust in him that Ben has, and because anytime he managed to do anything in the return game there was a penalty. Vick can look downfield and see a well covered Brown and he won’t throw it. Ben trusts Brown to get open, there is no one with more of a burst after his break than Brown.


      • Tunch Ilkin just talked through the Marcus Wheaton TD on Chalk Talk, and noted that the reason Wheaton was so open was that four guys were going with AB. He said that he may not be getting a lot of targets but he’s sure helping the team…


  • Not only did Boswell make the field goal, he split the uprights, and there was no curve to it either. He just nailed it. Side note: the field goal SD’s kicker made (54 yarder) would probably have been good from 65. That guy crushed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! Really happy for the kid in his first game and in prime time with just a bit of pressure on him. Sheesh! Nailed that FG and overcome an apparent case of the yips pre-game according to Gruden and Tirico. Good for Boswell!


      • Really? Since I didn’t see the first part of the game I didn’t hear that. And boy am I glad! Mike Tomlin must have been over the moon when he actually made the kick.


        • Steeler World and Tomlin no doubt were elated he made that kick. But man do I ever miss Swish. Hope the kid can keep it up, and no more kicking woes this year. We’ve had more than enough. He did well on kickoffs too which was encouraging, and how about some of those Berry punts downed at the 5 yard line or thereabouts? Rivers had to start almost every drive I think it was behind the 20 for a good chunk of the game. Huge! Special teams were outstanding, but man oh man the penalties on punt returns were just brutal. Egregious obvious penalties right in front of th erefs. Gotta fix that against the Cards this Sunday at Heinz.


          • Tomlin addressed that at his press conference, giving a menacing look when asked about the penalties (particularly the ever-popular Block in the Back,) and basically said they will address it even if it means getting some other people. Sounds like everyone from Danny Smith on down is on notice. And really, if you’re going to risk Antonio Brown being out there for punt returns, and then have his returns called back on penalties, you might just as well assign someone to fair-catch everything – safer and probably about the same 9or more) net yards…


  • Great win. If we make the post season, we’ll look back at this game as one one that started the march. As you point out, Rebecca, the offense was largely ineffective almost the whole game. I was beside myself. As much as I love what Haley has done with Ben’s offense, he has put the shackles on Vick. I’m sure he’s trying to keep from losing the game, but the playcalling needs to be more aggressive. I’m not a Vick fan, but Haley’s not helping with his very conservative game planning.

    We will need some points next week against Ariens and the Cards. Hopefully, he will open things up. All in all, a wonderful, exciting win.


    • Coaching Michael Vick calls for a delicate balancing act, especially now. With Ben out for the next few weeks, you really can’t afford to lose Vick to injury. So you have a quarterback whose best game historically has been with his feet, but he’s also been injury prone and has taken a lot of sacks and has been the victim of numerous strip sacks. So you have to pick and choose your spots to let him run or scramble.


      • Absolutely, Homer. One of the big knocks on Vick has been ball security. A forced fumble as he was scrambling could have been the end of the game. Vick keeps talking about having a high confidence level—I’m hoping after last night he has something rather more recent to base it on : )


        • I don’t disagree. I was thinking more in the passing game. A few more shots in the medium range would be nice. All’s well that ends well but we will need a better offensive effort against Arizona, I think. I understand ball security, but a more aggressive passing game, within reason may be necessary.


          • I don’t disagree. But the Chargers run defense had been pathetic. The Cardinals seem to be a better-balanced team on defense (although haven’t finished the numbers on the opponent preview. I don’t think there is much hope of beating the Cards with last night’s game plan. Maybe I should have just stopped in mid-sentence ; ) But as we know from his old Bengals days, Carson Palmer can be rattled, and he can be intercepted. We’re going to have to hope for more splash plays from the defense combined with better production from the offense to have a hope in this game.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Spot on. Not to mention scaling back the playbook because of his lack of time in the offense which limits what we can do in the passing game. To RFH’s point I hope we incorporate a few more routes just to give him options, especially if Arizona is able to stuff the run early. We’ll need to be able to open it up a little.


  • Did anyone else notice that they took 18 seconds away from us? The chargers scored in the 4th with 2:56 on the clock. The kickoff went out of bounds, however they started the clock and ran 18 seconds off before our offense even snapped the ball! We ended up with 2:36 before the ball was snapped on 1st down! We should’ve have more time at the end of that ball game instead of stressing out with 5 seconds left!!


    • I wondered about that at the time. I saw the clock was still running and figured the refs would tell them to reset. Just as well we didn’t need those 18 seconds. I can imagine the howls of fury around Steeler Nation today if the final play had failed and it was discovered they should have had enough time left after that to call the last TO and kick the field goal. Not that I think anything good would have come of sending the defense back out on the field, mind you… I think Tomlin looked at the guys and figured it was win in regulation or go home with a loss.


      • Ben Roethlisberger said on his 93.7 the Fan show this morning (done on 1 hour of sleep, bless him,) that because it happened after a kickooff that was a touchback nobody was watching the clock, which is supposed to stop automatically. Makes you wonder whose employee was running the clock…


  • The play of the defense far exceeds what anyone expected. I recall most folks thought the offense had to score 30 a game because the D would give up 29. I was nervous after the initial drive with Gates abusing Allen, but only giving up 20 points should usually be enough for the win.
    I’m glad that Vick pulled that last drive together, but I can’t wait for Big Ben to get back. AB wasn’t covered that well most of the game…I just really don’t think Vick can see him in the middle of the field. There were a few plays where Vick threw to the outside with an open AB streaking across the middle. To say Vick was the player of the game is to ignore his poor play for 90% of it. Bell was the workhorse and the best bet, imo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I say this with a bit of caution, as I am afraid of jinxing them, but the defense has been outstanding compared to what many expected of them this year.

      Agree with you on Vick. I was actually calling for Landry Jones right before Vick tossed that bomb. It is all or nothing for Vick. He has always been wildly inaccurate and he can’t see over the line to hit short or intermediate passes over the middle. Gruden called him out last night on missing the safety being up on the line. He didn’t call him too short verbatim, but that was what he was saying when he said no way Ben misses that read and calls the audible.


      • My brother texted me the same thing about jones. my response: And that is why we don’t start jones. He would never have been able to make that throw.


        • It’s a really interesting question, on a hypothetical level. Perhaps the game would have gone better in the early part of it with a QB who was more familiar with everyone, could see over the top of the defensive line, etc. But can you imagine how the energy would have been sucked out of the team by pulling Vick? If he had thrown four picks, maybe you do it, because at that point the team is mad that they are busting their butts and Vick keeps giving the ball back. (And admittedly if the Chargers’ DBs were a bit more sure-handed, that was a possible outcome. But at that point the game is out of hand anyhow and you just want to get the heck out of there.) I don’t see how it makes sense to pull the guy you planned the game around unless you absolutely have to. And the one thing that’s clear is, whoever else did or didn’t believe in him, Mike Tomlin never stopped. And Vick repaid his faith with interest.


  • Correction: 2:38 on the clock before we snapped the ball.


  • Just saw comments by Philip Rivers stating that they had to us a silent count and that his voice was hoarse like he be after a road game.

    Tomlin’s first comment after the game was to acknowledge the fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Wow! What a win. This team showed guts and grit to get that win. Really proud of this team. I’m not a huge Vick fan, but the guy took shots and kept coming. Do I wish he was more accurate and showed better anticipation on his throws, yup. Do I wish he had better awareness in the pocket, yup. But I can’t say enough about his resolve and I can’t say enough about him leading that last drive. Hat off Mike! The team did what it took to get out of there with a win and that’s what matters. Also, this is a TEAM and I mean players, coaches, and staff are all in and all in together. For Ben to notice a tendency in the San Diego D and to draw up a play, and for Haley to give that play the green light, and for the O to execute a play they hadn’t practiced speaks volume about the mentality of this team and the lack of individual ego of the players and coaches. That, more than anything, highlights what this team is all about.

    On a side note, a lot of us were or are avid fans of BTSC and I’m really disappointed in how that site is changing. From the articles to the fan commentary, its really taking a turn for the worse. I used to look forward to the thoughtful insight in the articles and the informed discussions on the boards. Some of that still exists, but its evident that its turning into just another site for ranting. So I really appreciate what this site represents.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think a lot of us are here for the same reason. BTSC has turned into the net equivalent of sports talk radio. Love it here.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Absolutely a team win. Watching Ben, the ultra-competitor, on the sidelines talking to Le’Veon before the last play and saying “No dancing!” Watching Tomlin’s face after his baby kicker punched in a 47-yard FG on his first NFL attempt. Watching Cam Heyward looking as if he just had all the juice sucked out of him, but going back in after one play off. Watching the way the guys interacted on the sidelines. A team that is struggling and going through some tough times can go one of two ways. They can start pointing fingers, or they can pull together and prop each other up. The latter is what we’re seeing, and they will be a better team for it once Ben is back. Unselfishness may not be a particularly popular virtue in society today, but it is the best kind of strength—the strength to deny oneself in the pursuit of the greater good.

      And thanks for your kind remarks, PittBoss. It’s great to have you here!

      Liked by 1 person

  • A couple of things that were validated from the article on coaching published yesterday.

    1. They put the ball in the hands of their best player, and this time at least it paid off.

    2. Taking advantage of the horizontal relationships on the team. The touchdown pass to Wheaton resulting from input from Ben as opposed from ‘on high’ by the coaching staff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Go ahead, boast away. You deserve it : )

      Liked by 1 person

    • Next game Haley has to let Vick be Vick and that means letting him throw the ball deep and take off running when needed. Vick has never been good at short and intermediate passes, Haley needs to fit his game plan for the player.


      • The QB needs to fit his play to his receivers, though. He can’t just chuck it deep every time…his completion % on deep balls is not good.


      • I agree, but what we don’t know is how does he look in practice? Is he showing that we can be successful if we open it up a little more or is he missing a lot hence the more conservative play calling we’ve seen for him. I have no way of knowing, but something tells me that what they see in practice will dictate how much we open up the passing game with Vick and with his limited time to this point in this offense the play calling doesn’t surprise me. With two games under his belt plus all the snaps in practice over the last few weeks and this week it will be interesting to see what Haley feels comfortable letting him do against Arizona.


    • I think Mike Vick’s strength is his instinct and pure God given talent. Look at Bell. You cannot teach that. I think that Ivan described this in his premium article as bodily or kinesthetic intelligence. It is fascinating to watch an athlete “get in the zone”. Just once I hope we can see Mike Vick in this frame of mind. It would be glorious if he did it next week.

      I think Vick is being very careful in how he plays throughout the game but I am glad for the ending. When the pressure was great and we needed a long bomb for some points he did it. When the pressure was greatest we got a typical Mike Vick scramble and a strike to Health. He did it when it counted the most.


  • Thank you for the shout-out for Dri Archer, his mom and I appreciate it.

    I am sure you are anxiously wanting to know about the new chant when the kicker attempts a FG. When the ball is snapped you yell “Who’s The Boss” after he makes it you look around the room and say “Well?” Yes I know it is lame but so far it is working. I wonder how bad attitude bartender would have reacted to the chant.

    Go Dri Archer! Go BossWell! Go Steelers!


    • Well done, fever – you’re one for one on the new kicker chant! I love Dri Archer, and I especially love what I’ve read about his mom…

      Liked by 1 person

    • LOL That sounds so terrible and cheesy. Let’s just ax that now. If it’s working for you, please continue though! Just say it in your head lol

      Liked by 2 people

    • And I don’t think Mr. Bad Attitude Bartender would have liked it much. He seemed to have a limited tolerance. Maybe it was just Monday, though. I can see why the first part of the game would try your patience…


  • Great site, Rebecca and Ivan! I always enjoy your insightful thoughts and thoughtfulness on BTSC, and you’re equally excellent here! Thank you!


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