V for Vendetta: Pittsburgh Steelers Win

John StepnickCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2009

Be wary, Be wary
Of mid January
The Chargers can upset and shock
I see no reason
Why the '94 season
Should ever be forgot

We were very careful around here not to mention the 1994-'95 AFC Championship Game all week leading up to this game. San Diego came in huge underdogs and upset the Steelers in one of the most stunning upsets in Pittsburgh history.

Personally, I can't ever remember feeling so dejected after a sporting event. The only other one that could come close was the Pirates loss to the Braves in the '92 NLCS. But we won't go there now. This game was all about one thing: exorcising demons.

Starring Dick LeBeau


Pittsburgh was on upset alert coming into the game, as all three home teams had failed to protect their home turf. But none of them had Jack Bauer and Styx taking the field.

Styx rocked out the national anthem...

...then stayed on the field to sing the opening of Renegade before player introductions. The place was going nuts even before the coin was flipped. No YouTube videos of this yet. The best we can find is this video of the defensive introductions.

Woodley dominates with his water-spraying.

Best introduction picture of the year?

Speaking of awesome pictures from this game, here's another:

No point to posting this except for its photographic awesomeness.

The Steelers won the toss and deferred. Kickoff time. Everything all week was about stopping Darren Sproles. Keyaron Fox and Lawrence Timmons are all over it.

San Diego comes out firing with a play-action pass to Gates on the weak side for a big gain. Sproles gets stuffed on a running play, then reels one in for 12 yards to get close to the Steelers 40. Rivers goes play action and fires over the top for Jackson, who reels it in with Ike in single coverage for the touchdown.
Where was the safety over the top on this play? San Diego: four plays, 75 yards, touchdown. So much for a fired up defense.


We needed to not go three-and-out on our first possession to give the defense some time to regroup. Willie Parker dominates the show by picking up two first downs in three carries to get things rolling.
Holmes gets called for holding on a WR screen to Hines, setting the Steelers back to first and 19. After an incompletion, Heath reels in a big grab to get the Steelers to 3rd-and-9, but Ben overthrows Holmes, setting up decision time for the coaches with the ball at the 34. Ben pulls a Kordell Stewart and pooches the ball, sticking it at the nine-yard line.

Yeah, Ben's punt was better than Berger's would have been.

San Diego comes out thinking that our safeties have pulled back and that they might have a sliver of hope to run the ball. Yeah right. Sproles gains minimal yardage on two plays, then gets overthrown on third down. Huge stand by the defense after giving up a touchdown on the first drive. But no one had any idea what was about to come next.



First Punt Return TD for the Steelers since Holmes did it in '06 at Carolina

First Punt Return TD in the playoffs since Antwaan Randel El broke a 66-yarder against Cleveland in January 2003 in the game where Tommy Gun brought us back against the Browns.


The Defense had a quick turnaround, but got a quick break on an offensive facemask, sending the Chargers back to 1st-and-25. However, Rivers was able to pick the defense apart with three short passes to move the chains.
A false start and a blown up run put the Chargers in 2nd-and-long, where LaMarr Woodley bull-rushes his way to Rivers and buries him in the backfield. Bill Leavy proves to be a better ref than the clown in the Baltimore-Tennessee game and calls San Diego for a delay of game.
Farrior stuffs Sproles like a sardine on 3rd-and-long and Scifres comes in to punt...wisely, he kicks it out of bounds, away from Holmes.

The offense comes back on the field looking to get things rolling. After nothing on first down, Ben goes deep for Nate, but Nate can't reel it in, setting up a third and long where Ben gets sacked by a blitzing safety while Mewelde Moore stands around and blocks no one. Punt.

Sproles bounces a run for eight, his longest tote of the day, then picks up the first down with a four-yard plunge as the quarter expires.

Second Quarter

The Chargers dominated the first quarter with over 10 minutes in time of possession. Luckily, we were still in the game thanks to Holmes.

Farrior and Harrison stuff Sproles on the first play of the new frame, then Gates pulls one down across the middle to set up 3rd-and-short. Aaron Smith is all over the Sproles run and stops him short of the sticks. Turner wastes a timeout by challenging the call and he loses. Punt.

The next drive was all about one guy: Willie Parker. Parker got four straight touches running for seven, five, six, and five before Moore gave him a breather. Moore picked up four, then Parker came back for three more, setting up 3rd-and-short.
Stapleton sets us back with a false start, and Ben hits Carey Davis on a crossing pattern, but Davis is pulled down short of the sticks. Need more power in those legs, son. Sadly, that's not the first time this game we'll say that either. The Steelers move to 0-3 on third-down conversions.
Ben wants to go for it, but San Diego saves us by taking a time out. Tomlin makes the right call. Punt team.

After an incompletion on first down, Harrison gets pressure and forces an incompletion on second down. Ike blitzes off the corner and Rivers throws one up for Jackson, which is ruled a catch. Tomlin challenges the 43-yard completion and wins it, sending the Chargers packing with a three-and-out.
Holmes picks up three yards on a reverse, then Nate pulls one down for five to set up 3rd-and-2. Now, for most legitimate Steelers teams, 3rd-and-2 is a running down. It always has been, it always should be.
Not for Bruce Arians.
He calls a pass to Carey Davis who gets stopped short of the sticks...again. Get Davis in the weight room doing some squats, pronto. On 4th-and-2 from their own 45, the Steelers execute a fake worse than Jack's flash-forward beard.

The Chargers get the ball on our side of the 50, in prime position to score.

After two plays go nowhere, Rivers finds Gates for 15 down the seam for the first down to get them into field goal range. The Diesel blows up Sproles in the backfield and Woodley is all over a short pass to the little guy out of the backfield, setting up another 3rd and long. Rivers hits Gates for eight, getting them back into field goal range, but well short of the sticks. Kaeding drills it right after the two-minute warning.


With the lead in San Diego's hands, Pittsburgh needed to respond. After a good return by Russell to the 34, Ben hit Holmes for 15, then out of the no-huddle hits Moore for nine more. Some Charger claimed to be injured, forcing San Diego to use their last time out, and giving our offense time to game plan with 2nd-and-1 at the San Diego 42.
Ben misses a wide open Heath Miller across the middle, then the Bulldozer comes in and plows for the first down. The Steelers wisely take a time out with just over a minute to go.

Ben overthrows an open Santonio Holmes on a deep corner route, bringing up second down. Hines pulls one in, but the proctologist report comes in and it says we need a Colonoscopy. Illegal Formation.
I swear, Colon takes a bad penalty at least once a game. Hines steps back up though and makes a great effort to come back for the ball and turn it upfield, going out of bounds at the three. Red Zone offense killed us last game against San Diego, but Willie Parker goes left end and bowls right over a San Diego corner to find paydirt.


The Chargers couldn't take the cold, so they decided to kill the clock and give the Steelers offense another shot after they warmed up a bit.


Nothing too exciting here. The Steelers had eight-and-a-half minutes of possession in the second quarter, but had only converted 1 third down thus far in the game. What do you know, they did it on a running play.

Third Quarter

Opportunity was knocking for the Steelers to take a two-score lead out of the break. The Willie Parker show dominates for four plays before Holmes snags a big grab on 3rd-and-7 to keep the drive alive.
Ben went deep for Holmes again, but no dice, bringing up second and long. Parker went nowhere on second down, but Ben was able to convert again, this time finding Nasty Nate for a big gain. Willie goes for two, then Carey Davis comes into the game, and we joke that he'll get the ball again.
What do you know, Ben throws it to him. What do you know, no gain.
On 3rd-and-8, Ben goes to the bank and finds Heath Miller depositing checks. Money. First down at the 12. Parker reels off four more, then Ben goes play-action and we all know what time it is

Heath peels off a block to find himself wide open in the flat. He runs over a Charger in the end zone for good measure.


Sproles rips off a huge 63-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to seemingly give San Diego a shot at getting back in the game with the ball at the Steelers 23. Already in field goal range, Rivers looks for Jackson but the Diesel gets a paw up and swats the ball in the air.
Larry Foote makes a diving interception that San Diego challenges. It wasn't happening for Turner today, as the interception is upheld and the Steelers get the ball back.

Parker runs twice to set up 3rd-and-3 where Ben hands to Moore going left, but Holmes gets it on the reverse going the other way and scampers for the first down. Parker gets four on first down, but a Heath Miller holding penalty on the next play sets things back. The Steelers can't recover and have to punt.

When you have a sucky punter, sometimes it works out. For the second time this year, a Berger punt hits one of the coverage guys from the other team. This time it was Chargers safety Eric Weddle...in the head. Big Play Willie Gay recovers, giving the Steelers new life at the San Diego 23.

Stapleton sets us back with his second false start of the game. After a broken play on first down, Ben hits Hines for a big 19-yarder to get down to the nine. San Diego gets flagged for a late hit out of bounds, moving the ball down to the four.
Parker gets to the one on first down, then Ben shows some nimble feet on a naked bootleg where he has to avoid pressure and eventually throw the ball away.
On 3rd-and-goal from the one, Russell is stuffed and the quarter expires.

San Diego ran one offensive play in the third quarter. It was an interception.

Fourth Quarter

With 4th-and-goal from the one and an 11-point lead, the Steelers should have kicked the field goal to make it a 14-point game. However, they make the second poor coaching move of the night (fake punt was the first) and go for it.
Arians described the play thusly in a postgame interview: "Ideally, we could have called a goal-line play, which would have been a QB sneak. However, since our QB has a concussion, we had to call a short-yardage play." You mean to tell me you have no "Goalline" plays that involve handing off to a tailback? Get outta tahn.
Of all people, why hand off to Carey Davis? Davis, who obviously has the leg muscles of a newborn, can't push his way in.

On first down, Rivers hits Hester out of the backfield in the flat. Hester turns it upfield and streaks for 11 yards and a first down. LaMarr Woodley, who is making a serious run at being nicknamed "The Undertaker" buries Rivers back at the two.

Two incompletions later, Scifres is punting out of his own end zone to Holmes. No magic this time, but the Steelers still get the ball in San Diego territory.

Parker gets four yards on first down, then Ben goes deep again. This time, Nate draws a pass interference penalty in the end zone, giving us the ball on the one. Gary Russell is no nonsense this time and The Bulldozer blasts his way in from a yard out.


The Steelers come out with Renegade, but with a 28-10 lead, the need for a defensive stop is a little less pressing. The more important issue now is the clock. The Diesel comes up with a sack on second down...

...and busts out his row the boat celebration.

However, Polamalu misses a tackle in the flat against the tight end not named Gates, allowing the Chargers to keep the drive alive. Sproles pulls in a crossing route grab for 11 yards, moving them into Steelers territory.
After two incompletions, Rivers hits Chambers for another first down. Two plays later, he goes back to Chambers down the middle, who reels it in at the eight. Troy whacked Rivers in the head on a blitz, picking up a roughing the passer penalty to move them even closer. Some no-name receiver catches a touchdown on a slant to get the game back to 11.


We referenced it once already, but I'm sure everyone remembers the 2002-'03 playoff game against Cleveland when we came back from a big deficit to beat the Browns. Guess who was Cleveland's offensive coordinator that game? Yup, Bruce Arians.
And what was one of the reasons why Cleveland lost that game? Because he threw with the lead and didn't kill the clock with the running game.

So what do the Steelers do with their lead chopped to 11 and just over 9 minutes on the clock? Come out throwing. Deep. Nate almost comes down with it, but it slips out of his hands as he hits the ground. Clock stopped. Nate comes back with a big second down catch to get to 3rd-and-3.

Ben has one almost picked off by an undercutting defensive back, but he threads the needle to Hines for the first down. After 64,000 people at the stadium recover from their collective heart attacks, the Steelers decide to run the ball.
Parker goes for two, then gets to the outside and turns upfield for 27. Parker picks up seven more before getting a breather. Moore gets a solid four, then it's Parker time again. He is stopped for one, but does his Flash impression on the next play and turns on the afterburners for a 16-yard score.

Bring on the Ravens.

After the Steelers took five minutes off the clock and put seven more points on the board, the Chargers were more or less done. The rest was simply formality. Rivers throws two incompletions then...

Harrison, who was getting held all game, breaks through a hold and brings down Rivers.

In a strange call, rather than going for it on fourth down, the Chargers elect to punt. This was pretty much a collective giving up by their coaches.

Byron brings out the second string offense, complete with Limas Sweed and the second-string O-Line. Russell gets two carries and the Chargers strangely use their time outs. Why do you punt and then use time outs as if you're still trying to win? That makes no sense.
Moron, Incorporated Arians calls a pass on third down and Byron goes over the top for Sweed, who has the ball in his hands but can't make the catch. Rookie nerves. He's going to need to get over them. Punt.

With just under 3:00 to play, San Diego comes out firing against the prevent. Rivers hits Chambers for 20, then Hester out of the backfield for a short gain. Rivers goes down the sidelines for Jackson and Ike rips the ball away, coming out with it.
The pass is ruled incomplete, and Tomlin makes a poor (not terrible like the fake punt or going for it on 4th-and-1, just poor) decision to challenge. The challenge fails, but the Steelers catch a break on a delay of game.
On 3rd-and-long, Rivers dumps one off to Sproles who shows he is the only Charger who hasn't given up yet, turning on the jets in the open field and blowing past all the Steelers for a 62-yard score.


The Steelers were offsides on the first onside kick attempt, so San Diego gets another go. Gary Russell falls on it and Leftwich comes in for the victory formation.

Game. Vendetta accomplished. Demons of '94 be gone.

Players of the Game:
Offensive Game Ball: Santonio Holmes
Willie Parker is a very, very close second here, but Holmes was the catalyst for the offense. His punt return shifted momentum and he came up with three big third down conversions (two through the air and one on a reverse) to keep drives alive.
Defensive Game Ball: LaMarr Woodley
Five tackles (three for a loss), and two huge sacks where he just buried Rivers.

Honorable Mentions:
Willie Parker
Heath Miller
Larry Foote
James Farrior
Brett Keisel
Ben Roethlisberger
Hines Ward
Justin Hartwig

Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
Carey Davis with the ball in his hands
He had zero, absolutely zero power in his legs. Send the boy to the gym coach. He couldn't drive for any extra yards on his catches and couldn't convert the 4th-and-inches at the goal line. I don't know why the Steelers kept giving him the ball when they saw he wasn't doing anything with it.

Final Thoughts
  • Bring on the Ravens!
  • Mike Tomlin is 11-1 in his career against divisional opponents
  • Time of Possession: Steelers 36:30, Chargers 23:30
  • Huge game by Parker. He still looks fresh, which bodes well for the next game, even against Baltimore's tough defense.
  • I know we can get pressure on Flacco
  • Did the Chargers have a pass rush today? Great job by the offensive line, particularly Hartwig, Stapleton, and Kemoeatu against Williams in the middle.
  • Ben had a fantastic game. He wasn't flashy, didn't put up big numbers, but he was efficient and didn't turn the ball over, which is all we needed from him.
  • Great to see Holmes have a big game
  • Hines always has huge games against Baltimore
  • The road to the Super Bowl goes through Pittsburgh. What a great feeling.
  • Believe it. Yes. We. Can.
  • Even though none of them were complete, I don't mind trying to go over the top. I like the play calls. It kept the safeties back, allowing Parker some room to run between the tackles.
  • We should run the ball on 3rd-and-2.
  • San Diego had one play in the third quarter. What a performance by the Steelers.
  • I've got a feeling....


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