Both offenses bogged down in their own way Monday night. The Steelers couldn't get the passing game going (with one notable exception) despite a brilliant night from running back Le'Veon Bell. Conversely, the Chargers' running game once again never started despite a (mostly) solid night from Philip Rivers.
Mike Vick woke up at just the right time, however, leading the Steelers on a touchdown drive to beat the Chargers, 24-20. The Steelers converted three third downs on the drive, the biggest being Vick's run for 16 yards on third-and-10 to put Pittsburgh on San Diego's 1-yard line. From there, the Steelers turned to Bell, who took the snap out of the wildcat and just inched the ball over the goal line.
The stat of the night might have been both teams' combined 6-of-25 performance on third downs up until that drive (the Steelers were 2-of-11). This game was not well-suited for spectators ... until late in the third quarter.
Antwon Blake made what might have been the biggest play of the night when he stepped in front of a pass intended for Malcom Floyd and took it 70 yards to the house for the Steelers' first touchdown. The score gave the Steelers a brief 10-7 lead, aided by a lackadaisical effort on the chase from the Chargers.
Blake was overshadowed by an overall outstanding day by Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, however. Making his season debut coming off a four-game suspension, Gates immediately became Rivers' favorite target, catching his 100th career touchdown pass on the Chargers' opening possession. He followed up the score with a brilliant route and catch in the fourth quarter that briefly gave the San Diego the lead in the fourth.
Given how the Steelers' offense had been performing up to that point, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Chargers had a stranglehold on the game, but the Steelers punched right back on the first play of their next possession with a DEEP connection from Vick to Markus Wheaton for 72 yards and a touchdown. The play accounted for almost half (159 yards) of Vick's passing yards to that point.
The Chargers responded with a sober field goal drive that put the pressure back on Vick to produce. Surprisingly, given how the rest of the game played out, he did.
1) Antonio Gates is ageless
The 13-season NFL veteran wasted no time scoring his 100th career touchdown. Coming off a four-game suspension, Gates caught three of Rivers' first four completions on his way to nine catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns for the game. He looked as spry as ever as he joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends to reach the century mark.
2015 has been the Year of the Old Guy. So far, there has been Matt Hasselbeck winning games for the Colts at 40 years old, Charles Woodson picking off Peyton Manning TWICE in one game, and Tom Brady and Drew Brees hitting important milestones. Gates, now 35, continued what has thus far been a five-week celebration.
2) Melvin Gordon just can't get going
Gordon, along with the Rams' Todd Gurley, were considered the top two running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft class. But unlike Gurley, the former Wisconsin star has yet to break loose. After rushing for 42 yards on Monday night, he has just 270 yards on the season -- an average of fewer than 60 yards a game. Gordon has only been able to show flashes of the explosiveness that made him a first-round pick.
Gordon's issues may lay primarily with his offensive line. The Chargers have had to shuffle around their line due to injuries more than anyone.
Gordon isn't blameless, however. A lost third-quarter fumble halted what had been a promising drive. He may also simply be a poor fit for a pass-first offense after playing for the run-heavy Badgers. Whatever the case, the Chargers' running game remains a non-starter.
3) Le'Veon Bell can PLAY
The Steelers, meanwhile, are LOVING Le'Veon Bell.
.@steelers RB @L_Bell26 is a human juke-button. #MNF #PITvsSD http://t.co/OEfIIgUg4S— NFL (@NFL) October 13, 2015
Man oh man, Le'Veon Bell is a special back. Heckuva run. #MNF https://t.co/oIO1P8XFNO— Brady Phelps (@LobShots) October 13, 2015
He finished with 111 yards on 21 carries, and one very important touchdown.