One of the biggest comebacks of the year took place in week 13, when the Los Angeles Chargers traveled cross-country to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Chargers were on a blazing hot streak, winning seven of their last eight games. That winning streak drew the Chargers within a game of the Kansas City Chiefs for the lead in the AFC West. L.A. had just beaten down the Arizona Cardinals the week before, winning 45-10. But the big win came at a cost, with running back Melvin Gordon injuring his MCL early in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh lost a tough game to the Denver Broncos in week 12 that ended a six-game win streak. That loss put the Baltimore Ravens only two games back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North. As the Steelers prepared to face the Chargers, they saw Baltimore win again, knocking the lead to just a game and a half.
The stage was set for a frantic, tremendous game.
Pittsburgh wins the toss and elects to defer the ball until the second half.
The Chargers are in an 11 personnel empty spread formation. Keenan Allen (#13) is the closest slot receiver to the field side. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (#90) jumps offsides but play continues. Allen is being covered by linebacker L.J. Fort (#54), and Rivers is going right for that mismatch. Allen hits Fort with a silky smooth release and is suddenly open running down the middle of the field. Rivers dumps it off and Los Angeles gains 18 yards to cross midfield.
Despite a fantastic grab by Keenan Allen on 3rd and 11, the Chargers would be forced to kick a 53-yard field goal on their next series. Michael Badgley’s kick had the distance but drifted wide left. The Steelers take over in great field position at their own 42-yard line.
Three plays into their first drive, the Steelers are on the Chargers 47-yard line.
Antonio Brown (#84) is split out wide to the boundary in this 12 personnel formation. Roethlisberger takes a 7-step drop and launches a rocket down the field to Brown. Browns runs right by and stacks Casey Hayward (#26) behind him, allowing the ball to fall over his shoulder into his chest. Hayward is able to stop Brown at the one-yard line.
James Conner caps off the drive with a run into the end zone.
Los Angeles’ next drive would net -9 yards and a three and out.
Pittsburgh’s responding drive begins at the Chargers 48-yard line. The Charger defense held up well until 3rd and 7 from the 29-yard line. Michael Davis tackles Ryan Switzer before the ball is playable in the end zone. Defensive pass interference is called and two plays later Conner runs in his second touchdown of the game from one yard out. Chris Boswell’s extra point hits the left upright and the Steelers lead 13-0.
The Chargers next possession was fueled by two Keenan Allen receptions and a Mike Williams reception, bringing them to the 46-yard line.
The Chargers are in 11 personnel with trips into the boundary. Sam Tevi (#69) jumps before the snap but the refs don’t throw any laundry. The play is on. Travis Benjamin (#12) is the outside slot in the trips formation. Benjamin’s route is an out-and-up. Keenan Allen is running a dig route over the top. Rivers gets the snap and does a great job of maneuvering around the pocket and keeping his shoulders upfield and ready to throw. Rivers slings a deep shot, hitting Benjamin in stride for six. The route concept forces Mike Hilton (#28) to try and keep up with Benjamin in a foot race down the sideline. The Chargers strike back, 13-7.
Pittsburgh’s next drive was efficient, moving the Steelers to the Chargers 22-yard line. The Steelers offense ran 13 plays before facing 3rd and 10 from the 22-yard line.
The Chargers defense is running Cover 1 Robber and Derwin James (#33) is in the slot covering Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (#89) in man coverage. Joey Bosa (#99) and Isaac Rochell (#98) rush from the edge, beginning to collapse the pocket around Roethlisberger. The QB heaves a pass that falls about 4 yards short of McDonald. James easily adjusts to the ball, picks it and takes off downfield, getting tripped up at the Chargers 44-yard line. A penalty on the return would bring the Chargers back to their own 21-yard line.
The Chargers would only gain 11 total yards on the ensuing drive and would be forced to punt from their own 32-yard line.
Pittsburgh regains possession and goes three and out.
Los Angeles takes back over at their own 17-yard line. Another three and out. Donnie Jones is lined up to punt.
L.J. Fort is the rusher furthest to the left that on the line of scrimmage. Just before Jones (#5) receives the snap, Darrius Heyward-Bey (#88) sprints down from his gunner spot to rush Jones from the left side of the field. Geremy Davis (#11) adjusts to the extra rusher and slides over to account for Heyward-Bey. Rookie Uchenna Nwosu (#42) does not account for the extra rusher and Fort is able to slide through the Chargers offensive line and deflect the punt. The ball is launched into the air but comes down only three yards past the line of scrimmage. Then for some inexplicable reason Jaylen Samuels (#38) reaches up for the ball and watches it bounce off his fingertips. Madness ensues, and the Steelers are lucky to recover the loose ball.
Pittsburgh only gains four yards before they are forced to attempt a 48-yard field goal. Boswell is true and the Steelers take a 16-7 lead with three minutes left in the half.
The Chargers offensive struggles continue and they were punting back to the Steelers with 1:47 left in the half.
Only 1:35 left when the Pittsburgh offense takes their first snap of the drive. Pittsburgh catches Los Angeles off guard with a run on first down, and Conner gains 20 yards to start off the drive.
JuJu Smith-Schuster came through with a big play of his own following Conner’s run. With fewer than 30 seconds remaining, Chargers cornerback Michael Davis gets called for another defensive pass interference.
1st and 10 from the Chargers 28-yard line.
The Steelers are in an 11 personnel formation with a tight bunch to the field. Brown is the outside receiver with Smith-Schuster and Switzer in the slot, McDonald is lined up tight to the boundary. Roethlisberger gets the snap and looks to his left where McDonald and Smith-Schuster are crossing the field. Brown runs down to the goal line and turns on the afterburners as he cuts across the field. Roethlisberger is able to drift to his left and buy time before heaving the ball into the end zone. A beautiful throw from Roethlisberger made even better by a beautiful catch from Brown.
The Steelers go into the half up 23-7.
Pittsburgh starts the drive off from their own 25-yard line. Eight plays into the drive and the Steelers are finally over midfield to the Charger 47-yard line, but its fourth down. Los Angeles takes over at their own 12-yard line after stumping the Steelers’ momentum.
Facing their first third down of the drive, Los Angeles dials up pick routes on both sides of the field. Allen and Williams (#81) are lined up in the slot to the field side. Allen’s route running and release game is so good that he creates his own pick route off of Williams running up field. As Allen cuts towards the sideline, Rivers lofts a ball his way. Hilton gets crossed up after guarding Allen, resulting in a 21-yard gain. Pittsburgh is lucky this play did not do more damage than it did.
Williams would provide the next offensive spark for the Chargers with catches of 20 and 18 yards. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson ran the ball well, helping L.A. work the game clock down to two minutes remaining in the quarter.
Allen is split wide to the field side in this 11 personnel formation. He runs a go route. Rivers gets the snap and stares down safety Sean Davis (#21) in the middle of the field, then slings a ball to Allen. It’s not a well thrown ball from Rivers, with two defenders able to make a play on it. But rather than intercept the pass, Davis crashes into Joe Haden (#23) and the ball hangs in the air over the end zone. Allen recovers and lays out for an amazing catch for a touchdown. It was just the type of play that can kickstart a double-digit-point comeback.
To try and cut the deficit to one possession, the Chargers went for two on the extra point. A Rivers play-action pass to Antonio Gates was complete and the Chargers trailed 23-15.
The Steelers take over on their own 14-yard line after being penalized on the kick return. Pittsburgh faced another huge set back on second down when Alejandro Villanueva was called for holding. Fourth down comes around, and the Steelers are punting from their own 16-yard line.
Jordan Berry (#4) gets a great punt off, sending Desmond King (#20) back to his own 27-yard line. King is able to shake Heyward-Bey and get up field with blocks to lead the way. King hits midfield and breaks across the field, with nothing but green grass in front of him. A quick touchdown and Los Angeles is in position to tie. The Chargers’ offense gets called back onto the field for their second two point conversion attempt in as many snaps.
Rivers’ number gets called again and he’s able to find a wide open Allen streaking across the field. The Chargers just turned this game upside down, and it’s tied 23-23.
Pittsburgh was not able to respond with points after the punt return. Another quick three and out and the Chargers are taking over.
Taking over in Gordon’s absence, neither Ekeler nor Jackson had been able to make their presence felt during the course of the game until late in the fourth quarter.
Jackson got the chains moving early on a 1st and 10 from the Chargers 35-yard line with a gain of 18 yards. He followed up the big run with a catch and run of 19 yards the next play, pushing the Chargers into scoring position.
Los Angeles is an 11 personnel set with Allen and Gates (#85) lined up to the boundary. The play is a trap on the Steelers 3-technique, Tyson Alualu (#94). Russell Okung (#76) hits the trap block on Alualu, Dan Feeney (#66) comes around on the kickout block, and Jackson (#32) hits the lane. Jackson hits Terrell Edmunds (#34) and Davis (#21) with a nasty juke and hops into the end zone. The Chargers have scored 23 unanswered points to take the lead.
Trailing for the first time all night, the Steelers offense took the field and started marching. Roethlisberger was able to carve his way through the Charger defense. A 10-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Conner got the Steelers into the red zone at the Chargers 16-yard line, but Conner was injured on the play.
After making a nearly devastating mistake earlier in the game, Samuels was forced into action.
Stepping in for Conner, Samuels produced a 6-yard gain on first down and had the Steelers at the Charger 10-yard line for this 2nd and 4 play. The Steelers spread the Chargers defense out using this 11 personnel trey formation. Samuels is in the backfield and runs a dig route. A quick bobble and re-catch and Samuels takes off across the field. Smith-Schuster gives Samuels a block, and the rookie is able to turn the corner for six. Pittsburgh ties the game at 30-30.
With 4:10 remaining in regulation, the Chargers begin moving efficiently down the field again. Allen, Ekeler and Jackson all made plays to move the Chargers to the Steelers 21-yard line with 21 seconds remaining. Badgley is in position to steal the game for Los Angeles.
From 39 yards out, Badgley sweeps his right leg and the ball drifts wide left. Everyone thinks we’re headed for overtime until the refs step in, calling Bud Dupree offsides. Dupree wasn’t the only Steeler to blame, since nearly the whole right side of the Pittsburgh line jumped. Badgley is gifted a chance to re-kick, this time from 34-yards out.
Badgley lines up and this time the kick is blocked by Artie Burns (#25). Pittsburgh survives for overtime! But underneath the scattered bodies on the field is a flag: Pittsburgh is offsides again. Burns got an early jump on his rush to block the kick. The Steelers grant the Chargers another 5 yards and a chance to re-re-kick for the win.
Now it’s getting comical. With an even bigger jump than last play, Burns is offsides again. Burns gets such an early jump that he actually manages to jump past the ball in the backfield. Badgley splits the uprights and the Chargers complete one of the biggest comebacks of the 2018 NFL season.
Chargers win 33-30.
MVP of the Game
Philip Rivers played a fantastic game against the Steelers, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns, with 26 completions on 36 attempts, but Keenan Allen won this game for Los Angeles. Allen was targeted 19 times, hauling in 14 of those passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and multiple incredible catches. An impressive stat line, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of how Allen was the best player on the field. Providing multiple catches in the clutch with the ability of a contortionist, Allen was unguardable.
Re-live this game and watch the highlights here.