Around the NFL  

 

What we learned: Vick, Bell propel Steelers to victory

Print

Finally unshackled from offensive coordinator Todd Haley's ultra-conservative game plan, a composed Mike Vick orchestrated an impressive three-minute touchdown drive to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a thrilling 24-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. Here's what else you need to know:

1. As beneficial as Haley has been for Ben Roethlisberger's career, Pittsburgh's play-caller has treated Vick as if there's no greater drop off from starter to backup in the entire league. Only when his team desperately needed his improvisational skills and deep ball was Vick allowed to play his style.

One play after Philip Rivers staked the Chargers to a seemingly safe 17-10 lead with 7:55 remaining, Vick dialed up a 72-yard bomb to Markus Wheaton for the tie. When Rivers led an 11-play field-goal drive to take a 20-17 lead, Vick responded again. Following a clutch third-down completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, Vick scrambled for the first time in the game, converting another third down with a 24-yard gain to put Pittsburgh in the red zone. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, he hit Heath Miller inside the 1-yard line, leaving just five seconds on the clock.

With enough time for just one play, the Steelers opted for a wildcat formation rather than a field goal. Having learned from last week's fourth-quarter and overtime failures, coach Mike Tomlin put the ball in his best player's hands with the game on the line. Le'Veon Bell promptly delivered, patiently churning his legs and sending the football over the plane of the goal line just before his knee hit the ground.

2. The Rivers-to-Antonio Gates connection deserved a better fate in the eight-time Pro Bowl tight end's return to the lineup following a four-game suspension. Playing behind an ever-shifting, penalty-prone conga line that needed all three reserves to step in for a starting lineup already playing with backups, Rivers was surgical, turning to his go-to receiver in key situations. Gates not only passed Shannon Sharpe for the third-most yards by a tight end in history, he also became the second tight end to reach 100 career touchdowns. Rivers-to-Gates ranks as the fifth-most prolific combo of all time with 74 touchdowns.

3. As he is most weeks, Bell was the best player on the field. Against a Chargers defense stacking the box in response to the Steelers' field-shrinking tendencies with Vick under center, Bell displayed his preternatural patience and cutting ability to consistently churn out more yards than the line blocked. His 89 first-half rushing yards were the most in a half in his career, as he accounted for 105 of the Steelers' 187 yards (56 percent) in the first two quarters.

Every game, all season

"He's a special back," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said after the game. "We knew coming in he was a great player."

4. After 35 consecutive games with at least five catches and 50 yards, Antonio Brown has failed to reach those marks in back-to-back games. While the change in quarterbacks is the obvious common denominator, Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett deserves credit for a great performance in coverage. Verrett is making the leap as San Diego's top cornerback, while veteran Brandon Flowers continues to struggle.

5. Steelers' 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones came through with his first sack in 386 days. He also forced a fumble and added a couple of quarterback hurries. The trick is to duplicate that performance against offensive lines that have yet to be depleted.

6. It's hard overstate the importance of this win for a Steelers team in danger of falling three games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. Although Roethlisberger desperately wants to play versus good friend and former play-caller Bruce Arians, a Week 7 return is more realistic -- but far from certain. Vick will have his hands full with a powerhouse Arizona squad while Cincinnati travels to Buffalo this week.

Print