By Teresa Varley
The Steelers led from the get-go and this time around they were able to hold off a late rally and defeat the San Diego Chargers 38-28 at Heinz Field.
The game wasn't without its tense moments when the Chargers scored 14 points late in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers weren't going to be denied.
The win evens the Steelers record at 2-2 and pulls them back into the mix in a tough AFC North.
"It's great to get back on the winning column for us, we're excited about that," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "Guys stepped up and made significant plays. Enough plays for us to win tonight. It's good to be back in Heinz Field in front of our fans. We will stack this win and move on; new week, new challenges."
Rashard Mendenhall, who didn't play an offensive snap against the Bengals after a poor week of preparation, showed his resiliency with a standout performance. Mendenhall had 29 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger completed 26 of 33 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns, with Hines Ward pulling in eight receptions for 111 yards and Heath Miller coming up with two touchdown receptions.
"It was a great day for the offense as a whole, the unit," said Mendenhall. The offensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage all game. It's a blessing for this team to get a win. Me and the offense as a unit had a great day."
The defense stymied the Chargers ground game, allowing a measly 16 yards rushing and forcing the Chargers to rely solely on their passing game.
The Steelers started off with a bang, with Roethlisberger hitting Santonio Holmes for a 15-yard gain and coming right back to Ward for a 15-yard completion. Rookie Mike Wallace pulled in a 35-yard reception, keeping his feet in bounds on the sideline route to the Chargers 14-yard line. Mendenhall took it up the middle for nine yards, and on second-and-one added a four-yard carry to the one-yard line. Mendenhall went right back up the middle, getting the Steelers on the board first with a one-yard touchdown run for the 7-0 lead.
The defense was swarming on the opening drive, knocking LaDainian Tomlinson for a one-yard loss after a short completion. Aaron Smith pressured Philip Rivers, forcing an incomplete pass to Tomlinson and on third down Rivers could not connect with Chris Chambers.
The momentum continued for the Steelers on the ensuing drive, with a healthy dose of Mendenhall who carried the ball four consecutive times for 20 yards. A defensive pass interference call put the ball at the Chargers 45-yard line, but Roethlisberger was sacked and fumbled on the next play, losing eight yards but coming up with the recovery. Roethlisberger went back to the air, connecting with Ward for 15 yards and Holmes for 11 yards to the 25-yard line. Roethlisberger capped the drive with a short pass to Mewelde Moore, who bounced off defenders to take it in for a 19-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Another strong defensive stand put the Steelers back in the driver's seat at their own four-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Ward for a four-yard gain and Mendenhall took it up the middle for three-yards. On third-and-three Miller pulled in a nine-yard reception to give the Steelers some breathing room at the 20-yard line. Mendenhall continued his strong showing with a 14-yard carry off right end. Holmes added a seven-yard gain on a reverse from Moore, and Mendenhall came back strong with a 10-yard carry. The drive came to a quick halt when Roethlisberger was sacked on consecutive plays, setting up a third-and-23. Roethlisberger hit Miller for 18 yards, but it wasn't enough to move the chains and they had to punt for the first time in the game.
San Diego's offense got moving on their next drive when Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for 15 yards and Legedu Naanee for 12 yards to their own 42-yard line. The defense clamped down after that, not allowing another yard and forcing another Chargers' punt.
The Steelers continued their first half dominance, with Mendenhall kick starting the drive with a nine yard gain. Faced with fourth-and-one Roethlisberger took it himself for three yards to move the chains. They got a break when an interception by Antonio Cromartie was nullified by a defensive holding call and took advantage of the second chance. Roethlisberger hit Miller for eight yards, Mendenhall for 20 yard and Wallace pulled in a 12-yard reception at the 16-yard line. Miller had a 14-yard reception, but fumbled at the two-yard line. Carey Davis recovered in the end zone, but inside two minutes the ball can not be advanced on the fumble, and it reverted back to the two-yard line. Mendenhall took it the final two yards, giving the Steelers a strong 21-0 lead at the half.
It was more of the same in the second half for the Steelers. After the defense stopped the Chargers again, the offense went to work. Roethlisberger hit Ward for 10 yards and went right back to his dependable receiver for 26 yards. Mendenhall picked up 15 yards on two carries, and it was right back to Ward for a 19-yard gain to the eight-yard line. The Steelers extended their lead to 28-0 when Roethlisberger found Miller in the corner of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown.
Things clicked for the Chargers on their next drive. Rivers hit Jackson for 12 yards and Antonio Gates for 13. He came back to Gates for a 26-yard completion to the Steelers 26-yard line. After a sack and incompletion Gates came through again, this time for a 16-yard gain to the 15-yard line. Rivers capped off the drive with a thee-yard touchdown pass to Gates, bringing the score to 28-7.
The defense stopped the Chargers on their next possession, but they still came up big. Jacob Hester knocked the ball away from Stefan Logan on the punt, recovered the ball and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to pull the Chargers within two touchdowns at 28-14.
Aided by a 32-yard breakaway run by Mendenhall the Steelers drove down the field with ease. And they even used a little trickery with Moore taking the handoff from Roethlisberger and throwing a six-yard touchdown pass to Miller to extend the lead to 35-14.
The Chargers weren't going away though. Rivers engineered another touchdown drive, hitting Gates for a 30-yard score to close the gap to 35-21. The Chargers recovered an onside kick that hit off of Ryan Mundy, The Chargers made it count, working their way down field with Rivers hitting Chambers for a 13-yard touchdown to pull within a touchdown at 35-28.
The Steelers were able to secure the win on their final drive when Jeff Reed hit a 46-yard field goal, to extend the lead to 38-28.