By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

Less than a week before the kick-off to the holiday season here in America, the Chargers welcome yet another team’s fan base, which will undoubtedly make their voices heard in the majestic SoFi Stadium. The 5-3-1 Steelers, winner of four of their previous five games, are coming off the only tie in the NFL this season. They are also 3-2 on the road, while the Chargers are 2-3 defending the home field this season. This is the 32nd match-up in the team’s history. The Steelers won 10 of the last 15 games in this match-up, dating back to 1994.

The Steelers 2-time Superbowl Champion Ben Roethlisberger had his bout with COVID 19 this week, though he eventually tested negative after the team left for Los Angeles on Saturday and had to fly separately from the team to Los Angeles to line up under center against the Chargers on Sunday night. They weren’t alone with their COVID 19 issues, as Chargers are also dealing with exposure to COVID 19 of their own. 3rd-year Defensive Lineman Jerry Tillery was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this week, and All-Pro Edge Rusher Joey Bosa was also exposed through contact tracing.

Fortunately, the Chargers have activated Team Captain and outside linebacker Joey Bosa and 3rd-year linebacker Notre Dame graduate Drue Tranquill from Reserve/COVID-19. Tranquill’s fellow Golden Domer Jerry Tillery will be out of this game due to COVID-19. The team also activated defensive lineman Andrew Brown (standard elevation), defensive lineman Forrest Merrill (standard elevation), and cornerback Kiondre Thomas (COVID-19 elevation) for their showdown with the Pittsburg Steelers.

The Chargers won the coin flip and deferred to the second half. On the Steelers initial drive, Ben Roethlisberger led them, with some help from a few costly Chargers penalties, on a long field goal to take the game’s first lead on a Chris Boswell 36-yard field. The Chargers responded with a blitzkrieg of their own, scoring a field goal, three touchdowns, and another field goal leading to a 17-point lead.

Propelling the Chargers in that first half was Austin Ekeler’s contribution which accounted for the team’s first three touchdowns. Ekeler’s third touchdown came on a pass from Herbert, where he juked three defenders; exploding past two guys, and carried the third guy into the endzone. His twenty-first and twenty-second touchdown receptions took Ekeler to pass Chuck Foreman for the most touchdown receptions in the common draft era (since 1967) by a running back within their first five seasons.

Not only did the Steelers stop the Chargers and their scoring streak. The Steelers grabbed the momentum in this game when they forced the Chargers to punt. In a have to have it moment, Miles Killebrew got his hands on a Ty Long punt to put the Steelers in prime scoring location. The Steelers capitalize on the blocked punt with a Najee Harris touchdown run. This would narrow the Chargers lead to 7 points, with 11:35 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. 

“We knew the ball was coming out quick, get your hands up… just tried to get my hands in the passing lane and then Cam(eron) Sutton made a great play.” Cameron Hayward would describe the tipped pass that led to the Cameron Sutton interception. That pick led to Ben throwing a five-yard game-tying touchdown to Pat Freiermuth.

On the very next drive Charger’s drive, Staley would display his courageousness again by going for the first down on a fourth down. Coming into the game the Chargers had a 64% fourth-down conversion percentage, yet Ekeler up the middle was stuffed, once again giving the Steelers the ball in prime scoring position, on their 39-yard line. The Steelers’ four-play seven yards drive led to a Chris Boswell 45-yard field goal. That field goal gave the Steelers a 3-point lead late in the fourth quarter of this game.

As cool as he always is on their third play of this drive, Justin Herbert found Mike Williams open on a busted play down the left sideline. Williams had one defender to beat, which he hurdled over on about the 12-yard line on route to the game-winning touchdown. This is now Mike’s seventh touchdown of the season; this would also be Herbert’s sixth career come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter or overtime. The six comeback wins are tied for the sixth-most by a quarterback within the first two seasons in his career. 

“I think he identified what we were in early on, and as soon as he saw it, and he was sprinting out. We need to clean that up. TODAY!” Hayward said. When asked what makes Justin Herbert so difficult to defend Hayward responded by saying, “His arms and his legs. He’s a really strong quarterback, who can throw the ball all over the field. When he sees open lanes because you’re worried about the pass; he knows how to make the defense pay.”

Justin Herbert would end up leading the Chargers in rushing this game. His 90 yards rushing paired with his 350 yards passing made him the first player in NFL history to post these numbers in a single game. Herbert also eclipsed 7,000 passing yards in his 25th career game, tying Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner for the second-fastest in history. His 7,263 passing yards were the third-most in history through a player’s first 25 career starts. Herbert’s three passing touchdowns gave him 53 for his career, he also passes Tony Romo for the third-most by a player in history through their first 25 career starts.

Ekeler ended the game with 115 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns (two rushing and two receiving). The 50 rushing yards brought him to 573 on the season, setting a new single-season career-high. This performance also made Ekeler the first running back to have multiple rushing scores and multiple receiving touchdowns in a single game since 2011 (Maurice Jones-Drew). He is also just the third running back in the last 30 seasons with at least five touchdowns on the ground and five receiving scores within his team’s first 10 games of a season.

The Chargers responded decisively to having the air taken out of their sails by the Steelers. The blocked punt and the 12 penalties for 75 yards hurt the Chargers. Yet, it was the record-setting play of Ekeler and Herbert that earned the Chargers the victory. This sixth win on the season for the Chargers put them in sole possession of second place in the AFC West, with a game advantage on the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs. Next week the Chargers travel to Denver to play the Broncos and then Cincinnati to play the Bengals.  

“Our players were ready for that environment, and they thrived in it, and you can tell by the way we played. Because our offense and defense came to play tonight. I can’t say enough about the toughness and resiliency of our group. That’s what we are trying to build here. Today was a good step in that direction.”Coach Staley said post-game about his team and their win. In reference to Justin Herbert Coach Staley said, “Part of your job as a quarterback, is to move the chains, by any means necessary, and that’s what he did tonight.” 

At 6-4 now, the Chargers show they can play exciting football. However, they need to correct their penalties issues; they have been penalized 71 times for 629 yards while their opponents have only been penalized 63 times for 570 yards this season. With the AFC West still open for the taking, these Chargers will have a chance to put together consecutive wins to stake claim to this division. What are your thoughts on the Chargers being able to win this division? Is this realistic? Let me know by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at info@whatsgoodinsports.com to share your thoughts. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.

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