With undrafted rookie third-stringer Devlin Hodges making his first NFL start on the road in Los Angeles on Sunday, the Steelers wanted to take some of the weight off his shoulders.
They got that with a dominant performance on defense, an improved running game and a phenomenal showing from Steelers Nation, which took over Dignity Health Sports Park and cheered the Steelers to a 24-17 upset victory over the Chargers.
Perhaps feeding off the energy of the Black-and-Gold dominant crowd, the Steelers defense came out on fire, forcing two early turnovers that changed the course of the game.
After a pair three-and-outs, Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers was under serious pressure and missed the mark on a lateral that Devin Bush scooped up and returned nine yards for a touchdown.
On the next possession, Tyson Alualu deflected Rivers’ pass at the line and Bush grabbed it for his sixth takeaway of his rookie season.
The Steelers turned the short field into seven points with a James Conner touchdown run.
The Pittsburgh offense got the ball back once again before the end of the first quarter, and Hodges found Conner off to his right for a 26-yard catch and run for his second score of the game.
The Steelers started the second half with another long drive that took over 6 minutes off the clock and ended with a Chris Boswell field goal to take 24-0 lead.
Hodges made his first big mistake in the fourth quarter, when he was intercepted trying to force a deep ball to Johnny Holton. The Chargers turned that into a touchdown when Rivers hit Hunter Henry in the back of the end zone and started a comeback run.
Rivers hit Henry again from 11 yards out with 1:34 to play to draw the Chargers to with a score, but Steelers cornerback Cam Sutton recovered the onside kick attempt and then intercepted Rivers on the Chargers’ last-gasp drive.