PIT-SD: Le'Veon Bell delivers game-winner as time expires
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Steelers’ 24-20 victory over the Chargers:
San Diego Chargers
– After an inconsistent start to the season, Philip Rivers (+1.3) has bounced back in the last two games, capitalizing on the return to the line of Antonio Gates (+3.5) who he hooked up with early and often. Rivers collected a lot of his passing yards on short targets (272/365) but he was on point with some accurate intermediate (three-for-five, 37 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and deep (two-for-three, 56 yards) passing when he was did raise his aim from the short passing that was his staple for much of the night.
– A strong, but shortened, rookie season has not led to immediate success in 2015 for cornerback Jason Verrett (+0.5), who turned in an impressive game in coverage this week, though his run defense still needs improvement. After losing Antonio Brown on a crossing route early on, Verrett was targeted only four more times on the night, surrendering a solitary completion for 4 yards, while breaking up a pass to earn a +2.3 coverage grade for the game.
– While Verrett held Antonio Brown (+1.1) largely in check, the same could not be said for Brandon Flowers (-2.5) on the other side, who was lit up for 138 yards by a trio of Steelers receivers. That represents Flowers’ highest yardage total allowed in a single game since Week 2 of the 2013 season against Dallas, when he played for the Chiefs. Flowers gave up the play that arguably swung the momentum for Pittsburgh, getting burned (in spite of attempting to hold Markus Wheaton) on a double move to surrender a 72-yard touchdown immediately after Rivers and Gates had set the Chargers up with a two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter.
TE Antonio Gates (+3.5)
OLB Jerry Attaochu (+2.2)
HB Danny Woodhead (+1.5)
QB Philip Rivers (+1.3)
TE Ladarius Green (+1.3)
– There is no hotter player in football over the last two weeks than Cameron Heyward who turned in the best single game grade of his career (+9.8), bettering the +7.5 mark he set only last week against the Ravens. Injuries forced the Chargers to shuffle their offensive line, and playing at left guard, San Diego’s reserve centers Chris Watt (-5.4) and J.D. Walton (-3.9) simply weren’t cut out to cope with Heyward’s power as a pass rusher, in particular, where he racked up 11 pressures (two hits, nine hurries).
– Very few backs in the NFL have a comparable running style to Le’Veon Bell (+3.1), and he put his rare blend of power, balance and speed to good use in a 100-yard game that he capped off with a game winning score as time expired. Bell forced five missed tackles, but saved the best until last, somehow weaving and contorting through traffic to extend the ball over the goal-line for the game winning score as time expired to bring the Steelers back above .500 for the season.
– Dropping to a two-score deficit proved to be a turning point for Michael Vick (-3.5), who can be thankful that the game wasn’t further out of reach by then. Prior to the Chargers’ second touchdown, Vick had been the beneficiary of three dropped interceptions in an erratic performance. After he hit Markus Wheaton (+1.3) streaking downfield away from Brandon Flowers on the very next play from scrimmage however, Vick played his own part in the Steelers’ turnaround. Well placed throws and a trademark scramble on the game winning drive helped put Pittsburgh in position for Bell’s game-winning heroics.
DE Cameron Heyward (+9.8)
OLB James Harrison (+5.2)
LT Kelvin Beachum (+4.6)
HB Le’Veon Bell (+3.1)
RG David DeCastro (+2.5)