Brees Benched in Chargers Loss

The San Diego Chargers came out as frigid as the wind chill in Pittsburgh. After three Pittsburgh possessions put the Steelers up 21-0, the Chargers stormed back with 17 unanswered. In the second half, they were unable to maintain their offensive explosion after a fumble by Drew Brees. Two interceptions later he was benched in favor of Doug Flutie in a 40-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A short kick by Steve Christie opened the game, landing at the 18 where Antwaan Randle El returned it to the 43. Jerome Bettis followed with a nine yard gain into Chargers territory setting the Steelers up quickly. Forced to go for it on fourth and inches from the SD 31 on fourth down, Bettis running over right guard made the yard he needed and three more before Donnie Edwards tackled him. A holding call on Sammy Davis gave the Steelers another first down. After two runs netting four yards, Tommy Maddox threw the ball up and short for Plaxico Burress. Burress came back to the ball as Davis fell down, turned and ran it into the end zone from 25 yards out to put Pittsburgh up early, 7-0.

On the second Pittsburgh drive, the Steelers picked on the secondary for their yards. Maddux hit Burress for nine, dumped on off to Bettis for 18 as Bettis ran away from Edwards before getting out of bounds and hitting Hines Ward for 15 as Quentin Jammer tried to jump the route. Thee runs by Zereoue produced 16 yards and placed the ball at the Chargers 13. Bettis followed with three runs to put the ball at the 2 yard line, first and goal. The next play Bettis hammered it in, bouncing off Zeke Moreno, putting the Steelers up 14-0.

The third Pittsburgh drive started in San Diego territory after they went three and out. Ward then received a handoff and went 25 yards down the right sidelines to put the ball at the SD 16. On the next play, Maddox hit Burress in the back of the end zone to put the Steelers up 21-0. Jammer was in coverage on the play and bit on the inside slant as Burress went back outside. Jammer was unable to recover and Moreno ended up being the closest Chargers to Burress.

The Chargers were finally able to move the ball on their third possession.

LaDainian Tomlinson caught two balls out of the backfield for 17 and added a nine yard run and Antonio Gates caught a pass on the sidelines for 17 yards to put the ball at the Pittsburgh 18. Tomlinson added another three yard run and had to come out of the game, bending over on the sidelines. Leon Johnson replaced him and could not get the first down on third and one. With nothing to lose, the Bolts went for it on fourth down. With a spread offense of five wide receivers, Drew Brees took himself to gain the yard needed. After a two yard loss by LT, Brees was unable to hit a wide open Gates at the goal line to bring up third down. Brees then hit Gates just short of the first down marker. For the second time on the drive, the Chargers went for it again on fourth down from the Steelers 5. Tomlinson got the carry, running behind Kelvin Garmon, to get the first down and a touchdown run to make the score 21-7 Steelers.

With 1:17 to go, the Chargers got the ball at the Pitt 42 after the defense forced a three and out. The Bolts gained nothing on the first two downs and Brees dropped back to pass on third and ten. He couldn't find anyone open and scrambled left then back right before finding Gates open. He hit Gates, who came back for the ball, and Gates dove for a first down. Brees hit Gates again for a 20 yard gain down to the 13 yard line. With :08 seconds to go, the Chargers settled for the field goal, a 31 yarder to make the score 21-01 heading into halftime.

On the first drive of the second half the Chargers finally hit a different receiver other than Gates and Tomlinson. Brees hit Kassim Osgood for a ten yard gain on third and six and followed with a 57 yard touchdown pass to Osgood on third and nine to bring the Chargers within four, 21-17. With a blitz coming from the left side, Brees rolled out right and hit Osgood on the fingertips. Osgood did the rest. After making the catch over his shoulder on a crossing route, he ran it in untouched for the score.

After stopping the Steelers on their next possession, Brees trying to make a play while being chased, was stripped of the ball at their own 21 yard line by Troy Polamalu. Gates going for the ball pulled up short thinking it would go out of bounds and Deshea Townsend raced in to secure the ball before it touched the sidelines. After a short run by Bettis, Maddux hit Ward for a 20 yard touchdown reception to put the Steelers up 28-17.

Townsend then intercepted Brees on the next possession. With the ball on the Pitt 41, Brees went deep for David Boston, but the ball flew too far and Townsend corralled the ball at the 4 yard line.

After the Bolts were unable to stop them deep in Pitt territory on third down, Bettis ran for 20 yards to put the Steelers in good shape. Randle El, after a handoff, then hit Ward for nine yards. On the next play, the Steelers crossed midfield. Several runs put the Steelers in field goal range at the 29. Jeff Reed came on to kick the 47 yarder to put the Steelers up by 14, 31-17.

After a few runs by Tomlinson, Brees hit Justin Peelle for 24 yards and followed that up with a 29 yard strike to Osgood to set the ball up at the Pittsburgh 4, first and goal. Two Tomlinson runs got the ball in the end zone to make the score 31-24.

Riding the back of Bettis and Ward, the Steelers got into field goal position again and Reed nailed one through the middle of the uprights from 40 yards out to put the Steelers up 34-24.

Deshea Townsend put the game away with his second interception of the game. Brees tried to get the ball into Tomlinson with a referee over his back and the ball tipped up into the air where Townsend snared it and went in for the touchdown from 25 yards out. After missing the extra point, Steelers 40, Chargers 24 with 4:29 to go.

Doug Flutie entered the game on the next Chargers possession. Flutie started the next drive with a run of 10 yards. He then hit Dondre Gilliam and Peelle before tucking and running for another first down, eight yards downfield at the Pitt 24. On fourth down, the team came up inches short on a David Boston reception. The Chargers challenged the spot of the ball and were denied the first down after the review. That play ended any thoughts the Chargers had of a comeback with 3:05 left and no timeouts.

The Chargers got back on the field one final time and did nothing with it.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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