Saved by the Bell: Steelers top Chargers on game's final play
Five seconds left, down by three points and the ball inside the 1.
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed a gutsy play against the San Diego Chargers.
They got it for a stunning victory.
Le'Veon Bell scored on a wildcat run as time expired to give Mike Vick and the Steelers a 24-20 victory Monday night that had tens of thousands of Pittsburgh fans roaring and waving their Terrible Towels at Qualcomm Stadium.
Bell took the direct snap, ran left and was slowed in traffic before diving for the end zone and getting the ball across the line as Donald Butler dragged him down.
"It was time to go to the mattresses, if you will," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We had to do what was required to win. Le'Veon gave us an opportunity to win, and we were trying to do everything we could to move the football."
Bell said it was the most meaningful touchdown of his three-year career. "The game-winner on the last play of the game, that's what you dream about," he said.
"`I got to get it in," Bell said. "We still had a timeout left. I was thinking we still have a timeout left, so I'm thinking, `OK, maybe if I get stopped, maybe run like 4 seconds off and get a timeout and we could kick a field goal. I wanted to end the game right there."
Ten days earlier on Thursday night in Week 4, the Steelers twice had fourth down and less than a yard for a first down in overtime, and in the extra frame, and both times Tomlin opted not to give the ball to Bell.
They failed to convert both times, the second time leading to Baltimore's game-winning score, and Tomlin took plenty of heat for the play-calling.
On Monday night, there was no way Tomlin was going to kick a field goal to force overtime ... or go away from his All-Pro back.
"We have to run the football. We have Le'Veon Bell. We had an opportunity to win the game," Tomlin said. "We're on the road in a hostile environment, we've got to play to win and that's what we did."
It wasn't all that hostile, not with all the black-and-gold-clad fans in Qualcomm Stadium, which could be hosting its final year of the NFL because Chargers owner Dean Spanos wants to move to the Los Angeles area.
"First I'd like to thank Steeler Nation," Tomlin said. "How about the support that we had in the building tonight? We get that type of support just about all of the time we're on the road, but it doesn't get old. We appreciate it."
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers didn't.
"It was a tough environment tonight. It was like being on the road," he said.
"Odd is one word we could use," Rivers said. "We were in silent count and we had no chance. We were checking in and out of plays and it was about as tough as it gets. I'm usually hoarse after road games and I'm going to be today as well."
Vick, having an awful game until the fourth quarter, kept the drive alive with a 24-yard scramble up the middle on third-and-6 from the 41 and then a 16-yard pass to Heath Miller to 1 a play before Bell's big run. An unnecessary roughness call against San Diego's Jahleel Addae moved the ball a half-yard closer to the end zone and stopped the clock.
"It's not how you start. It's how you finish," Vick said.
San Diego called a timeout before Pittsburgh ran the gutsy play.
Bell ran 21 times for 111 yards.
San Diego rookie Josh Lambo kicked a go-ahead, 54-yard field goal with 2: 56 left.
Vick, making his second straight start in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger, couldn't get much going until he and Markus Wheaton hooked up on a 72-yard touchdown on a stop-and-go route to tie it at 17 with 7:42 left.
The Chargers then moved down the field for Lambo's kick. Eight days earlier, the rookie kicked a 34-yarder as time expired for a 30-27 win over Cleveland. Lambo also was short and left on a 60-yard attempt just before halftime against the Steelers.
Antonio Gates returned from a four-game PED suspension and caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Philip Rivers in the first quarter and then had an 11-yard grab with 8:02 left to give the Chargers a 17-10 lead. Gates has 101 career TDs, joining Tony Gonzalez (111) as the only tight ends to reach that milestone.
Rivers has thrown 74 touchdown passes to Gates, the most from a QB to a tight end in NFL history.
Gates was suspended without pay for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug in the offseason.
Antwon Blake intercepted Rivers' pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter. Receiver Malcom Floyd broke off a crossing route that led to the pickoff.
It was Rivers' third pick-six of the season. He has turnovers in 10 of his last 11 games.
San Diego came right back and tied it on Lambo's 40-yard field goal.
Notes: Rivers was 35 of 48 for 365 yards. ... Floyd had his 300th career catch. ... Chargers OL Chris Watt was being evaluated with a head injury.