2021 Steelers Season Recall: Shootout ensues in loss with the LA Chargers

Steel City Underground presents our 2021 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

After their tie game with the winless Detroit Lions in Week 10, expectations varied as to how well the Pittsburgh Steelers would do on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers the following week.

Concerns lingered on the number of key players Pittsburgh wouldn’t have on the field up until kickoff on Sunday Night Football. Those concerns became realized as the Chargers got off quickly, offensively, and just kept coming.

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Ben Roethlisberger was one of those concerns, as the Steelers quarterback was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols after testing positive the night before the previous game’s tie with the Lions. Big Ben didn’t practice all week and was flown on a private jet separately to make the game on Sunday evening.

Ben Roethlisberger marched into SoFi Stadium, putting up 273 passing yards with three passing touchdowns. He completed 28-of-44 pass attempts finishing with a passer rating of 103.7.

Najee Harris – who didn’t “pop” on the stat sheet – finished the night with 39 rushing yards on only 12 attempts, one rushing touchdown, and 20 receiving yards.

That was part of the problem early on, as the Steelers offense continued to struggle early on. In fact, most people were ready to turn off their televisions as the game entered the fourth quarter with the Steelers trailing by 17 points.

But for those who did shut their sets off and went to bed early, they missed a hell of a game. The Steelers were able to grab 24 points in the fourth quarter of the game thanks to a heads-up play on special teams, a tipped ball they intercepted, and somehow not only closed the 17-point gap, but took a 37-34 lead off of a Chris Boswell field goal.

Their Steelers defense, however, had a bad night… and that’s an understatement. The fact that Pittsburgh finally seemed to have woken up in the final quarter was a hopeful sign, as they showed a lot of heart and fight late. Unfortunately, they just did not have enough left to keep the Chargers from answering with 14 points.

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Collectively the defense gave up 533 yards. It’s hard to believe that the offense could put up 37, when they didn’t put up 30 points all year. However, it was a tougher pill to swallow when the defense gave up that many yards – and 41 points!

But there’s good reason, if you want to call it that.

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The defensive side of the ball was missing star players such as T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden. The luminaries whom graced the field ranged from Taco Charlton to Karl Joseph to Delontae Scott. (The only memory most have of Scott, who was elevated from the practice squad for this game, is when ran on the field wearing Ryan Shazier‘s old number 50.)

He joined another practice squad addition to the roster, Daniel Archibong. Still there were more missing names, as Derek Tuszka joined Charlton, Joseph, Scott, and Archibong as five players who weren’t in camp with the Steelers just a few months earlier.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon, who was far from in good graces at this point in the season, made it six, while seventh round pick Tre Norwood, played his most snaps of any game all season: and more than he played in the previous four games combined.

Archibong and Scott played 8 and 7 snaps, while Joseph added 15 (20%). Witherspoon (20/26%), Tuszka (32/42%) and Charlton (49/64%) all managed significant time, Along with DE Henry Moundeaux, another former practice squad player who logged 27 snaps (36%) during the game, which severely hampered their ability to slow down Justin Herbert and company.

With the six players who weren’t in camp combined with a late round rookie pick and another practice squad player, the Steelers fielded eight mostly inexperienced and/or backups against the Chargers. (That didn’t include Chris Wormley, who already ascended from a backup role earlier in the season to become a full-time starter.)

When taken into account, it’s easier to understand how a hodgepodge group of players can give up 533 yards.

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Typically I wouldn’t give as much of an overview in this column, but the Steelers first three quarters saw them get scored on in all five of the Chargers first possessions. It’s crazy, because the Steelers were only down seven points at halftime: and actually had the edge in time of possession over the Chargers by a full minute.

However the third quarter would see the Steelers smashed to bits, as their only full drive of the quarter was a 3-play, 2-yard dud that saw them quickly punt the ball back between Los Angeles scores.

Down 27-10, Ben Roethlisberger fought back through the end of the third and into the fourth quarter, still giving Steeler Nation hope that they could pull off an unlikely road win.

The defense, short-handed, came away with a turnover – as two of the remaining playmakers, Cameron Heyward and Cameron Sutton, combined for a Herbert interception. Miles Killebrew, overwhelmingly a special teams player, made an impact with a blocked punt too.

It wasn’t enough, however, as Chargers WR Mike Williams put the icing on the cake as LA held on for a 41-37 win.

With the loss, Pittsburgh moved to 5-4-1 on the season, with a rematch against the Bengals looming for the following weekend.

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