Big month awaits Steelers, Chargers
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Philip Rivers didn’t exactly spend a lot of time poring over the most accurate performance by a quarterback in NFL history.
The longtime Chargers quarterback understands there’s no time.
Not with the Chargers (8-3) scrambling to stay ahead in the middle of a tight AFC playoff race and a trip to AFC North-leading Pittsburgh (7-3-1) looming, one that could erase all doubts about whether Los Angeles is for real.
“We’ve got a heck of a December ahead of us,” Rivers said.
So Rivers gave his 28 for 29 day in an almost comically easy 45-10 over Arizona last Sunday a cursory look, lingering over his one mistake — a second-quarter fumble on a play he audibled to — far longer than any of his three touchdown passes or his record-tying 25 straight completions.
The 15-year veteran is well aware miscues of any variety need to be avoided when Ben Roethlisberger is on the other sideline just waiting to pounce in a place that’s not exactly hospitable to teams in visiting white jerseys, particularly as the calendar hits December.
The Steelers are an NFL-best 18-3 in December since 2013 and 8-0 in December prime-time games at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001.
“It’s one of those old-school NFL atmospheres,” Rivers said. “Throw in fact it’s in December they are right there in the hunt in the AFC and you expect a heck of a game.”
One the Steelers need just as badly as the Chargers. Pittsburgh had its six-game winning streak end last week in Denver, a 24-17 setback littered with the kind of sloppy mistakes the Steelers largely avoided while righting their season following a 1-2-1 start. Pittsburgh turned it over four times, three times in the red zone, the last one a Roethlisberger pick at the goal line on a pass intended for Antonio Brown.
The loss cost the Steelers the inside track at the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and set up the possibility that Los Angeles’ visit to Heinz Field could be the first of two such meetings.
Not that Pittsburgh is getting caught up in “what ifs,” not with a December schedule that includes games against the Chargers, New England and New Orleans.
“We’ve done it from all the different seeds,” Roethlisberger said. “So just getting in is the most important. Getting one of those first two byes is a big deal but there is still a handful of games left, so we have a lot of games in front of us we got to take care of first.”
Roethlisberger and Rivers are seventh and eighth on the all-time list for career yards passing, throwing for a combined 108,196 yards — or 61.5 miles — since they came into the league in 2004. The two understand they are inextricably linked, though there’s one thing — two actually — that Roethlisberger has that Rivers does not: a Super Bowl ring.
A victory on Sunday wouldn’t guarantee a shot at one, but it would stamp the Chargers as a team built to compete in January and perhaps beyond. Rivers isn’t consumed by the big picture, however. Focusing on the small one is tough enough.
“I’m trying to get a first down on Sunday night to be honest with you,” he said.
KEEP AN EYE ON:
The Chargers receivers, who will need to pick up the slack with running Melvin Gordon’s injury. Gordon is week to week with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Mike Williams had two touchdown catches last week while Keenan Allan has a TD in three straight games. Williams was a deep threat early in the season, but showed off his athleticism in last week’s win over Arizona with two catches near the boundary line at the back of the end zone.
The emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster has taken some of the pressure off Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster is taking advantage of defenses who focus extensively on Brown, one of the reasons the 22-year-old ranks sixth in the league in receptions (77) and yards receiving (1,055). Still, Roethlisberger is quick to shoot down the notion Pittsburgh now has two No. 1 receivers. If anything, the number is far greater than that.
“I’d put James Conner in there,” Roethlisberger said. “Vance McDonald, (Ryan Switzer, Ju, AB. So, I’d put a lot of them as number ones.”
BOSA’S REALLY BACK:
Los Angeles defensive end Joey Bosa missed the first nine games because of a bone bruise to his left foot, but made his presence felt in his second game back last week with two sacks. Roethlisberger has always been a difficult quarterback to take down, but Bosa’s speed could give him an advantage.
The game features a pair of brothers squaring off. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt could find himself in position to tackle older brother Derek, a fullback for the Chargers. Longtime Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey will share the field with brother Mike, who plays the same position for Los Angeles. Asked if anyone would notice if he and his brother switched places at halftime, Maurkice Pouncey joked, “Yeah, I’d take those boys to the next level.”
Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh (7-3-1)
Tonight, 8:20 p.m., NBC
OPENING LINE — Steelers by 5
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Los Angeles 6-5, Pittsburgh 6-4-1
SERIES RECORD — Steelers lead 23-9
LAST MEETING — Steelers beat Chargers 24-20, Oct 12, 2015
LAST WEEK — Chargers beat Cardinals 45-10; Steelers lost to Broncos 24-17
AP PRO32 RANKING — Chargers No. 6, Steelers No. 8
CHARGERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (8), PASS (10).
CHARGERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (9), RUSH (13), PASS (7).
STEELERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (6), PASS (2).
STEELERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (9), PASS (6).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Steelers have won four of last five meetings. … Pittsburgh 15-3 at home all-time vs. Los Angeles. Chargers won last visit to Heinz Field in 2012. … Los Angeles making first Sunday night appearance since 2014. … Chargers QB Philip Rivers coming off game when he set NFL record for highest completion percentage (96.6) and tied mark for consecutive completions (25). Rivers also has multi-TD game in every outing this season. … RB Melvin Gordon will not play due to MCL sprain in knee. … RB Austin Ekeler leads league in average yards per scrimmage touch (7.5). … WR Keenan Allen has caught TD in three straight games. … Defense has allowed league-low 15.8 points in past eight games. … Rookie S Derwin James only player in league with 75-plus tackles (78), three-plus sacks (3 1-2) and two-plus interceptions (3). … Pittsburgh’s six-game winning streak snapped last week in loss to Broncos. … Steelers are 27-8 in prime-time games at Heinz Field. … Pittsburgh is NFL-best 18-3 in December games since 2013. … Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger seventh all-time in career passing yards (54,729). Rivers is eighth (53,467). They were selected in same 2004 draft. … Roethlisberger’s 97-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster last week gave him four 90-plus yard passes in career, most in NFL history. … Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards against Broncos, his sixth game of 450-plus yards. No other QB in NFL history has more than four. … Game features pair of brothers. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt plays older brother Derek, fullback for Chargers. Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey will share field with twin brother Mike, who plays same position for Los Angeles. … Steelers win would assure 12th straight non-losing season, second-longest active streak in NFL. … Watt is first Steelers outside linebacker to reach 10 sacks since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in 2010. … Pittsburgh DE Stephon Tuitt expected back after sitting two games with elbow issue. … Fantasy tip: Smith-Schuster is thriving opposite Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster has already surpassed rookie totals in receptions and yards receiving.
— The Associated Press