Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Chargers, fans take another body blow

By Tom Krasovic
October 13, 2015

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mike Vick runs upfield against the San Diego Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mike Vick runs upfield against the San Diego Chargers during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

With Ben Roethlisberger injured and Philip Rivers making his 149th consecutive start, with a rusty and creaky Mike Vick working from Pittsburgh's 1950s playbook, with Antonio Gates affirming his greatness, the Chargers had a teed-up chance Monday night to put their season on track.

They knocked it into the woods.
They lost a game they probably could not afford to lose.
With the game on the line, the Steelers didn't even bother to disguise their smashmouth intention -- to have Le'Veon Bell run the ball from the one-foot line after taking the snap like the halfbacks do in the grainy black-and-white film. The Steelers acted like Steelers.
"We were going to the mattresses," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
A Godfather reference. Brass-knuckles time.
Bell was up to it, scoring despite a frantic but in the end futile effort by Chargers defenders, who outnumbered Bell's blockers nine to eight at the snap.
The 6-foot-1 running back's reaching effort, as Donald Butler tackled him by the lower legs, made it 24-20 following the one-point kick.
The clock showed 0:00.
And because this is San Diego, and sports teams and fans here can never suffer too much, the game-losing play wasn’t the final blow.
When the replay judge confirmed that Bell had, in fact, scored the winning touchdown as the clock expired, a second celebratory roar went up from tens of thousands of fans at Qualcomm Stadium.
Steelers fans, who had turned the stadium into a giant yellow-and-black bee hive, let out a cheer that could be heard from North Park to Linda Vista, sweeping across Mission Valley.
Having attended games in the old stadium since the 1980s, Chargers Blogger has heard more than a few outbursts from visiting fans.
Yes, Cubs fans were loud in the 1984 playoffs, and Tigers fans boisterous in the 1984 World Series.
The full-throat roars of Yankees fans 14 years later, when the Scott Brosius drive cleared the outfield wall, rocked the big house.
This was louder. Certainly as loud. Or maybe it was all of those yellow-towels waving that fanned the noise.
By then, Chargers players were numb.
Here the Steelers were, trying to win without Roethlisberger, their great quarterback, and running an offense more conservative than Barry Goldwater in 1964.
For a long stretch in the second half, the Chargers won the yardage game 210-10.
Until late in the game, Chargers defenders could tell where the ball was going before it was snapped (and that man snapping it wasn't Maurkice Pouncey, an All-Pro center out with injury).
Vick was out of sync with an offense he'd joined just six weeks ago.
Led by Manti Te'o and Corey Liuget, the Chargers usually stopped the ball. They forced seven punts through three quarters.
Bell, whose patience and vision were magnificent, burned them a few times, and Rivers threw a pick-6, his third in five games.
The Steelers hung around. And Vick came up with big plays. He threw a long scoring pass that beat Brandon Flowers. Picked on Flowers twice more, with two other pass-catchers. When the Chargers failed to control the pocket, Vick showed Gates who the fasted 35-year-old was in the house. He ran for a timely long gain, 24 yards, on the last 80-yard drive that lifted Pittsburgh (3-2).
So the Chargers (2-3) were left to figure out how they lost.
“It was real frustrating,” cornerback Jason Verrett said. “It was a tough loss. We had the game won."

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