PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers let another one slip away.
For the second straight week, the Steelers held a second-half lead and lost. This time, Pittsburgh blew its biggest lead ever at home, as Michael Badgley kicked a 29-yard field goal on the final play, lifting the Los Angeles Chargers to a 33-30 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and they finished the game,” Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said.
The Steelers (7-4-1) were on a six-game winning streak before losing last week at Denver and again on Sunday. It’s their first two-game losing streak of the season.
The Steelers, who held a 23-7 lead to start the second half, blew a 16-point lead at home for the first time in franchise history. The Steelers were previously 174-0-1 all-time when ahead by 16 points at home. It was the first time the Steelers blew a 16-point lead overall since Nov. 8, 1981, against Seattle.
“The game was 23-7 and as a defense, we can’t surrender points,” Heyward said. “We just gotta play better. I don’t care who it is, it’s unacceptable.”
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 281 yards and two scores for the Steelers, who are clinging to the AFC North lead over surging Baltimore. Antonio Brown caught 10 passes for a season-high 154 yards and a touchdown. James Conner added 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns before leaving in the fourth quarter with a lower leg contusion.
“It’s a bad loss,” Roethlisberger said. “You just can’t play bad football against a good football team.”
Things looked good in the first half when Pittsburgh scored on four of six possessions. Conner scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, giving the Steelers an early 13-0 lead following a missed extra point. The Steelers, who won four of the previous five meetings against Los Angeles, continued to surge, and pushed the lead to 16-6.
Pittsburgh, which came into the game 18-3 in December since 2013 – the best mark in the NFL over that span – seemed poised for another masterful December performance with an end-of-half score, nearly driving the length of the field in just 1:18. Roethlisberger capped the six-play, 91-yard series by threading a 28-yard touchdown pass between three defenders to Brown for the score.
But, Philip Rivers and Los Angeles recovered in the second half.
Rivers completed 26 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Keenan Allen caught 14 passes for 148 yards and a score, while Justin Jackson ran for 63 yards and a touchdown in place of injured starter Melvin Gordon. Pittsburgh limited Los Angeles to just two yards rushing in the first half, tying the third-fewest allowed by the Steelers since Heinz Field opened in 2001.
“We just didn’t tackle better in the second half,” Heyward said. “We didn’t stop the run as much. We have to be better as a defense.”
Los Angeles opened the second half with 23 unanswered points, turning a 23-7 halftime deficit into a 30-23 lead.
Allen caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rivers late in the third quarter on a play in which Pittsburgh defensive backs Sean Davis and Joe Haden collided going for the ball, which popped up in the air and landed squarely in Allen’s hands.
Desmond King added a 73-yard punt return, and Allen pulled in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 23. Jackson’s 18-yard burst up the middle gave the Chargers a 30-23 lead.
Rookie Jaylen Samuels replaced Conner and caught a 10-yard touchdown pass for Pittsburgh with 4:10 to play to tie the game at 30. That left Rivers ample time to one-up Roethlisberger, a fellow member of the vaunted 2004 draft class that includes New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Rivers calmly led the Chargers 64 yards in 11 plays, including a 12-yard pass to Allen on third-and-4 at the Pittsburgh 34 that pushed Los Angeles close enough to bring on Badgley for the win.
Badgley initially missed a 39-yard kick, but Pittsburgh was called for offsides.
“It looked like all of us jumped off at the same time,” Haden said. “Sometimes when you get a good jump, it looks like you jumped offsides. I would have to look at it again, but I didn’t feel like we were offsides.”
Badgley’s ensuing 34-yard attempt was blocked, but the Steelers were flagged again for jumping across the line of scrimmage before the snap. Badgley drilled his third attempt at the game-winner, as the Chargers completed the biggest opposing comeback in Heinz Field history with just their fourth win in Pittsburgh in 19 tries.
“You can’t say anything about our offense, our offense put up 30 points,” Heyward said. “We didn’t get the job done as a defense.”
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