By Rob Rossi
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledges fans before a game against Chargers on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in San Diego.
SAN DIEGO — The Big One was all smiles while sunlight still bathed Qualcomm Stadium on Monday afternoon.
A few hours later, Ben Roethlisberger's arms were raised as if he had just thrown a winning touchdown.
Except the Steelers' franchise quarterback was wearing a headset, not a football helmet.
But it might not be that way for long.
And these Steelers could go a long, long way when Big Ben bounces back.
A 24-20 win over the San Diego Chargers was equally thrilling and significant for the Steelers.
Overall, they're 3-2 instead of 2-3.
Against AFC opponents, they are 1-2 instead of 0-3.
The NFL season is not long, only 16 games.
There are no encouraging losses. There are no troubling wins. There are only 12 of 32 teams that qualify for the Super Bowl tournament.
The Steelers still can be one of those teams.
They probably couldn't be had Le'Veon Bell not patiently penetrated the pay dirt on a win-or-lose call by coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
“We've got to run the football, man — we've got Le'Veon Bell,” Tomlin said, referring to the running back voted by teammates as the MVP last season.
A field goal would have tied it, and it probably would have been a gimme by Chris Boswell.
How could Tomlin believe any kick is a gimme? He probably didn't even bother to learn Boswell's name given all the kickers the Steelers have had since opening training camp.
Boswell is the fourth.
In a way, Mike Vick was the fourth option at quarterback, too.
Bruce Gradkowski was the backup quarterback. He's hurt.
Landry Jones was the backup's backup. He's now the backup.
Vick came to the Steelers cold, two weeks before the regular season was to begin, and it seemed like nobody would ever know if he could still play this sport that made him a household name.
Until the fourth quarter on Monday night, it seemed like everybody knew that Vick couldn't still play. At least, not very well.
ESPN commentator Jon Gruden called for Vick's benching on the “Monday Night Football” broadcast.
Easy call to make from the booth, “Chucky.”
Your former Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant coach had to make the hard call from the Steelers' sideline.
But Tomlin had to stick with Vick, who arrived at the fourth quarter with eight completions and 87 passing yards.
Tomlin had to stick with Vick because the Steelers led, 10-7.
A great coach doesn't turn the fourth quarter over to Landry Jones.
Tomlin is a great coach.
Just look back at the last two games without Roethlisberger.
The Steelers should have won them both.
They would have if not for two missed field goals by their latest former kicker.
The overtime loss at home to Baltimore remains on the shoulders of Josh Scobee.
Not the defense.
But not talking about the defense is probably the best indicator of Tomlin's coaching greatness.
The Steelers were supposed to range from lousy to awful on the side of the ball for which the franchise is most reputable. The secondary was to be terrible. The linebackers were to be a work in progress. The line was to be good, but not very deep.
Those are the groups that Keith Butler inherited as the defensive coordinator who replaced legendary Dick LeBeau.
Those groups aren't lousy or awful. They're actually showing signs of becoming dependable.
The Steelers have surrendered 20 or fewer points in four consecutive games.
Can't wait to see what a Roethlisberger-led offense does with a defense that isn't offensive.
Might not have to wait, either.
Before this big win, Roethlisberger bounced around the field. He also shuffled, started and stopped, and basically showed off during a workout.
He looked like a guy getting ready to practice.
And then his team looked like the kind of tough-minded, adversity-tested brotherhood that Big Ben has taken to The Big Game.
It's a big change.
Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/robrossi/9254125-74/steelers-tomlin-vick#ixzz3oSWIsRPx
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