CB Cletis Gordon (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
In the playoffs, big-time players are expected to make big-time plays. In Sunday’s Chargers-Steelers game, San Diego was without some big-time players and the Steelers made all the big-time plays. Pittsburgh authored four plays of 40-plus yards, the last of which KO’d the Chargers' Super Bowl hopes.
The Steelers lived on the big play in Sunday’s Divisional Round victory, getting yards in chunks during pivotal moments of the game.
It started midway through the first quarter with the Chargers sitting on a 7-0 lead. Mike Scifres served up a 53-yard punt to Santonio Holmes, who promptly returned it 67-yards for the game-tying score.
The play was a far cry from anything Scifres saw last week, when the Indianapolis Colts failed to bring any of his six offerings out past their own 20-yard line.
The Chargers recovered from that blow and battled back to take a 10-7 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. However, Pittsburgh’s next big play proved far more difficult to overcome.
With less than a minute remaining until intermission, Ben Roethlisberger launched a 41-yard bomb just over the hands of Antonio Cromartie and into the waiting arms of Hines Ward, who brought the ball down to the San Diego 3-yard line. One play later, Willie Parker raced around the left side and into the end zone to give the Steelers their first lead, one they would never relinquish.
The Chargers stayed in the game until things unraveled in the final 20 minutes. That’s when Eric Weddle was involved in two backbreaking plays.
The first came with two minutes left in the third quarter and the Chargers trailing by 11. Pittsburgh’s Mitch Berger punted the ball from his own 34-yard line, but the kick bounced off Weddle’s helmet and was recovered by CB William Gay. The result was a 43-yard swing in field position.
The Chargers defense answered the bell, forcing the Steelers to turn the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession. However, the next time Ron Rivera’s group took the field, the result was not so favorable.
With 13 minutes left in the game and the Chargers still down by only 11, Roethlisberger hoisted a deep ball to Nate Washington in the back of the end zone. The attempt fell incomplete, but Weddle was flagged for a 44-yard pass inference penalty, giving the Steelers a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
Gary Russell ran the ball in one play later to make it a three-score game, all but ending San Diego’s season.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.