Pittsburgh Steelers fans felt as if they were at home Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, as yellow terrible towels were waved all around through an energetic crowd of 25,425.
The road Steelers started the game off with 24 unanswered points and the Los Angeles Chargers ultimately lost at home for the third consecutive time, falling 24-17 after battling back late in the second half.
“We dug ourselves in a hole. I still believe in this football team. We dug ourselves in a hole and I believe we’ll dig our way out,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers started the game off with a miss thrown backward pass to tailback Melvin Gordon that resulted in a scoop-and-score for Pittsburgh rookie linebacker Devin Bush.
“Everybody’s pressing a little bit because we all are anxious,” added Lynn. “We all want to turn this around.”
Four plays later, Bush then intercepted a Rivers’ pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage. Steelers (2-4) running back James Conner then converted his first touchdown shortly after with a 12-yard run to give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead.
Connor totaled 119 scrimmage yards (41 rushing, 78 receiving) and played a big role in helping Pittsburgh control time of possession 34 to 26.
“It was a big win for us on the road in a very fragile state,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.” I think we had a lot of quality efforts tonight from a lot of people.”
Steelers rookie play caller Devlin Hodges made his first NFL start and finished 15 for 20 for 132 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
With 6:34 remaining in the second quarter, Hodges connected with Connor for a 26-yard score after Chargers (2-4) linebacker Jatavis Brown was unable to prevent the TD, trailing 21-0.
Los Angeles proved to be one dimensional offensively, struggling to get any momentum going in the run game. Chargers running back Austin Ekeler rushed for only 14 yards on 5 carries and Gordon had 18 on 8 carries.
“The run game is tough right now. Austin and I can’t get things rolling,” said Gordon, who played in his second game of the season since ending his holdout. “How it’s looking right now, the pass is going to have to open up the run.
“They chewed up a lot of clock,” Ekeler said. “Because of that, we might be throwing more than we’re running, just trying to get down the field and move the ball fast. I think it was the opposite of what we were trying to do.”
Rivers was 26 of 44 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Chargers tight end Hunter Henry was the bright spot for the team, as he returned to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury and set career highs with eight receptions for 100 yards.
Chase McLaughlin converted a 38-yard field goal for L.A. to start the fourth, followed by Rivers finding Henry in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard TD with 7:13 remaining.
Six minutes later, Rivers and Henry connected again, this time for an 11-yard score, cutting their deficit to seven with 1:29 remaining.
Los Angeles had one final chance after being pinned in the back of their end zone after forcing a punt as Rivers soared a deep ball, but was intercepted by Pittsburgh defensive back Cam Sutton, ending the game at 24-17 in favor of the Steelers.
“It’s pretty tough. I don’t know if we’ve been down by three touchdowns, but we’ve had a comeback like this before,” said Rivers, “It’s tough but our guys believed. You saw we gave ourselves a chance. They pin you down there on the 1 and have to go 99 yards with no timeouts, that’s about as rough as it gets.”
The Chargers travel to Tennessee (2-4) next Sunday where their next three of four games are on the road.