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fordfixer
10-05-2009, 12:45 AM
Steelers beat Chargers, 38-28
Sunday, October 04, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09277/1003097-100.stm

A Steelers season that nearly collapsed in only its fourth game caught a life preserver last night from the guy who spent last weekend in coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse.

Rashard Mendenhall, benched on offense a week earlier because he did not know the plays, responded last night with nothing short of a superman performance in the Steelers' 38-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Mendenhall shook off two seasons worth of injury and unimpressive showings in one big night that saved his defense from another redfaced, fourth-quarter collapse. Their onetime 28-0 lead in the second half had dwindled to one touchdown.

He ran for 166 yards, two short touchdowns, caught two passes for another 26 yards and delivered two brutal blocks that temporarily knocked out two San Diego defenders from the game. He had 103 career rushing yards entering the game.

He led a 51-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with 43 seconds to go to preserve the victory.

Mendenhall, starting for the first time since his shoulder was broken in the fourth game of last season, combined with the pinpoint passing of Ben Roethlisberger to guide the Steelers to leads of 21-0 at the half and 28-0 in the third quarter before the Chargers stunned the Heinz Field crowd with lightning scores in the fourth quarter that closed the game to one touchdown with 4:31 to go.

Two touchdowns came on a strip of punt returner Stephan Logan and after a successful onside kick by the Chargers.

But Mendenhall rattled of runs of 22 and 15 yards on a late-game drive that helped run down the clock and led to Reed's 46-ayrd field goal.

Roethlisberger threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and Mewelde Moore caught one and passed for another as the Steelers achieved the kind of balance on offense they long have sought. Tight end Heath Miller caught two touchdown passes and Hines Ward had his second 100-yard game receiving in 2009.

The most important aspect of their victory last night, though, was Mendenhall. With starter Willie Parker out with turf toe, Mendenhall resurrected a run game that ranked 27th in the NFL entering the season.

Mendenhall scored his second TD in the first half, powering up the middle for two yards with 1:28 before halftime. He scored from the one in the first quarter.

Making only his second NFL start, Mendenhall turned in a fabulous first half with two short touchdowns runs, 80 yards rushing, one catch for 20 yards, many broken tackles and two knockout blows on blocks.

The Steelers' first-round draft pick in 2008 answered many questions that have swarmed around him the past two seasons. Mendenhall scored his first NFL touchdown from the one with 11:49 left in the first quarter. He ran hard on three straight runs from the 14, picking up 9, 4 and the final 1 for a 7-0 lead.

The Steelers threw a few wrinkles into their offense on that drive. Center/guard Doug Legursky lined up at fullback and Mendenhall ran behind his block into the end zone. Earlier, return man Stephan Logan lined up at wide receiver.

Roethlisberger came out winging on that 79-yard drive, opening the game with three straight passes, the best a 35-yarder to rookie Mike Wallace.

Their next drive covered 75 yards, and this one occurred in the opposite manner; it began with four straight running plays by Mendenhall and ended with a touchdown pass of 19 yards from Roethlisberger to Mewelde Moore. Roethlisberger beat an all-out blitz by seven Chargers defenders by flipping the pass to Moore, wide open on the left. The back then powered through two Chargers near the goalline for the score that put the Steelers in front 14-0 with 4:08 let in the first half.

Their third touchdown came on their fourth drive of the first half, and this one covered 79 yards on 13 carries. The biggest -- certainly the brassiest -- play on that drive came when Tomlin ordered his offense to go on fourth-and-one at their own 30. Roethlisberger made his coach look good, gaining three yards on a sneak.

The next key play came when cornerback Antonio Cromartie intercepted Roethlisberger but was called for holding Santonio Holmes on the play, giving the Steelers a first down instead.

Tight end Heath Miller caught a 12 yards pass to the two, but fumbled and newly-signed fullback Carey Davis recovered. Mendenhall then plowed up the middle for the finale and a 21-0 lead.

The Steelers made quicker work of their next drive, covering 81 yards in eight plays that ended with Miller catching a six-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger. It was their fifth drive of the night and their fourth touchdown for a 28-0 lead.

San Diego finally broke the ice with a third-quarter touchdown pass of three yards from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates.

Matching the lightning bolts on their helmets, the Chargers suddenly scored another in quick and unique fashion. The Steelers forced them to punt from their 11, and little return man Stephan Logan fielded it cleanly. However, as he was swarmed by a handful of Chargers, he fumbled and Jacob Hester recovered and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.

Just like that it was 28-14 with 12:37 left in the game.

The Steelers scored again with 7:18 to go to seemingly go back out to a comfortable lead, 35-14.

But the electrified Chargers were not done. Theu moved 67 yards in a minute-and-a half to score on Rivers 30-yard touchdown pass to Gates and with 5:48 left, they trailed 35-21.

They then recovered an onside kick that went through the hands of Ryun Mundy and moved 54 yard on three plays, the final a 13-yard pass from Rivers to Chris Chambers and it was 35-28 with 4:31 to go.


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