Chargers take on Denver after huge win over the Steelers
November 25, 2021
Brandon Staley, head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, likes to say that he is a building a team that is "tough and resilient." To prove his point, the Chargers lead the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives with five, with the latest game winning drive coming this last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Chargers, after blowing a 27-10 fourth quarter lead, came back to defeat the Steelers, 41-37, on a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to wide receiver Mike Williams. The game was played at SoFi Stadium with 70,240 fans on-hand to watch the Sunday Night matchup. The victory improved the Chargers record to 6-4, the loss dropped the Steelers to 5-4-1 for the season.
Five of the six Charger victories have been fourth quarter comeback wins and all have been engineered by Herbert. That toughness and resiliency will be tested again on Sunday afternoon in Denver in a big division matchup with the Broncos. A win would put the Chargers back into first place in the AFC West. The Chargers would be tied with the Kansas City Chiefs, who have a bye in Week 12.
The Chargers own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs by virtue of their victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 3. The Chargers have the best division record at 2-0 and their 4-2 conference record is the best in the division. The Chiefs are 1-1 in the division and 2-4 in the conference. The Broncos are 5-5 for the season, with an 0-1 record in the division and 2-4 record in the conference. This is also a must win for the Broncos.
The Chargers offense was on-fire on Sunday Night led by Herbert. The Chargers had five offensive possessions in the first three quarters and scored on each possession to build the 27-10 fourth quarter lead. Herbert led the Chargers to three touchdowns and two field goals in the first three quarters, including a 98 yard, 12 play drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler.
The Steelers cut the lead to 27-13 early in the fourth quarter when things really got rolling for Pittsburgh. The Steelers finally forced the Chargers to punt and punter Ty Long had his punt blocked by Miles Killebrew and the ball rolled out of bounds at the Chargers three-yard line. This set-up a one-yard touchdown run by Najee Harris to cut the lead to 27-20 with 11:35 left in the game.
Herbert answered that score by leading the Chargers on a seven play, 75-yard drive culminating in a five-yard touchdown run from Ekeler, his fourth touchdown of the game. The highlight of that drive was a 36-yard run by Herbert to the Steelers 11-yard line. The Chargers led 34-20 with 8:48 remaining in the game.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers answered that drive with a nine play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Eric Ebron. That cut the score to 34-27 with 4:49 left in the game. On the ensuing drive, Herbert had his pass batted in the air by Cam Heyward and picked off by Cameron Sutton at the Chargers 11-yard line.
A few plays later, Roethlisberger hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for a five-yard touchdown to tie the game at 34-34 with 4:28 to go. On the following possession, the Steelers stopped the Chargers on downs and got the ball on the Chargers 34-yard line. Four plays later, Chris Boswell connected on a 45-yard field goal and the Steelers led, 37-34, with just 3:24 remaining in the game.
The Chargers had blown a 27-10 fourth quarter lead and now trailed 37-34, in what was setting up as an epic Charger meltdown. But Staley never lost faith in his team. "We stayed together that fourth quarter," said Staley. "We stayed together the whole game. We played with tremendous energy tonight. That's why we won the game, because when it was tight and the crowd was going crazy against us, our guys were ready for a fight today."
It also helps to have Herbert at quarterback. Herbert completed 30 of 41 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 90 yards, a career high in the NFL and more than he ever rushed for in a college football game playing for the Oregon Ducks. Roethlisberger was impressed with both the Chargers and Herbert. "They're a really good football team. It starts with their quarterback. He's a great young football player. He ran all over the place today, made throws. What a special talent. He's the next generation. He's a good football player."
After Herbert's touchdown to Williams gave the Chargers a 41-37 lead with 2:09 remaining in the game, the defense had the last word and sacked Roethlisberger twice, with the first sack coming from Kyler Fackrell and the second sack at the hands of Joey Bosa. The Steelers gave up the football on downs and that was it.
After the game, Staley talked about Herbert. "He was fantastic in the game today. He was the best player on the field. He has real instincts for the game for his position. He has real instincts for the game. His legs, today, really helped us win that football game. It was just real quarterbacking today. I'm really, really proud of him."
It has become obvious that the Chargers fortunes ride and fall on the talents of their 23-year-old quarterback. In the six wins, Herbert has thrown for an average of 329 yards per game, with 17 touchdown passes and two interceptions. In the four losses this season. Herbert has averaged 237 yards per game, with five touchdown passes and six interceptions.
When Herbert is the best player on the field, the Chargers have an excellent chance of winning. If Herbert struggles, the Chargers struggle. Herbert has played his best football when the offense is moving at a fast pace, when he is able to move the pocket and when needed, run for a first down. Against the Steelers, eight different receivers caught a pass. It would have been nine, but Justin Jackson dropped a short pass over the middle. Spreading the ball around has worked well for the Chargers.
The Broncos head coach is Vic Fangio and Staley knows him well. He worked under Fangio in Chicago when Fangio was the defensive coordinator and in Denver when Fangio was the head coach. Staley has said that he learned a lot from Fangio and the matchup of the two head coaches should be an interesting chess match.
The Broncos will want to run the ball, something that worked well for them in their win over the Cowboys last Sunday. They rushed for 190 yards in their rout of the Cowboys, and they are certain to test the Chargers shaky run defense. The game will start this Sunday, November 28th, at 1:05 PM PST from Denver's Empower Field at Mile High Stadium and will be televised locally on CBS.