Steelers’ Conner scores 2 TDs, Hodges wins first start
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Pittsburgh’s Devlin Hodges walked into the stadium properly attired for his first NFL start. He was wearing a T-shirt with a duck on it that read “I’m The Boss,” befitting his nickname and quiet confidence.
The rookie quarterback directed the Steelers offense like a boss and not a third-string rookie as he led Pittsburgh to a 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.
“I liked his effort. We knew we couldn’t give him a lot of exposure to that defense, so we did some things in other areas,” said coach Mike Tomlin, who nicknamed Hodges “Duck Dynasty” during offseason workouts.
Hodges, who was elevated into the starting spot after Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion last week against Baltimore completed 15 of 20 passes for 132 yards with a touchdown and interception. He benefited from a strong running game and a defense that scored the game’s first touchdown and forced three turnovers.
“It’s nice to get a win in my first start. It’s something I have always dreamed about,” said Hodges, who got the shirt for $5 in Venice Beach on Saturday. “I’ve always had a belief in myself and it’s just amazing.”
It is only the fifth time in 26 games in franchise history that the Steelers have won a road game with a quarterback making his first start.
James Conner had his first game with both a rushing and receiving touchdown and accounted for 119 scrimmage yards (41 rushing, 78 receiving). He suffered a quad injury during the third quarter and did not return.
On defense, Devin Bush recovered a pair of turnovers, including returning a fumble for his first NFL touchdown.
“It was a big win for us on the road in a very fragile state,” Tomlin said. “I think we had a lot of quality efforts tonight from a lot of people.”
The Chargers (2-4) trailed 24-0 after three quarters but rallied to get within seven on a Chase McLaughlin field goal and two TD passes from Philip Rivers to Hunter Henry.
“We dug ourselves in a hole. I still believe in this football team. We dug ourselves in a hole and I believe we’ll dig our way out,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
After Henry’s 11-yard TD catch made it 24-17, Los Angeles tried an onside kick with 1:28 remaining, but it was recovered by Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton. The Chargers forced a three-and-out and got the ball at the 1 after a punt, but Rivers was picked off by Sutton to preserve the Steelers’ win and improve to 2-4.
“It’s pretty tough. I don’t know if we’ve been down by three touchdowns, but we’ve had a comeback like this before,” said Rivers, who was 26 of 44 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “It’s tough but our guys believed. You saw we gave ourselves a chance. They pin you down there on the 1 and have to go 99 yards with no timeouts, that’s about as rough as it gets.”
Bush scooped up a backward pass from Rivers that Melvin Gordon was unable to handle and went 9 yards to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead
The rookie got his second turnover four plays later when he intercepted a Rivers’ pass that was deflected by defensive end Tyson Alualu at the line of scrimmage. That would lead to Conner’s first TD, a 12-yard run around left end with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter.
Conner put Pittsburgh up by three touchdowns with 6:34 remaining in the second when he caught a short pass from Hodges and went 26 yards up the right sideline after Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown was unable to tackle the third-year running back at the 25.
Los Angeles didn’t get on the board until one minute into the fourth quarter on McLaughlin’s 38-yard field goal. Rivers ended the offense’s seven-quarter drought without a touchdown when he found Henry in the back of the end zone from 5 yards out with 7:13 remaining.
HEINZ FIELD WEST?
It felt like a home game for the Steelers as the stadium was dominated by Pittsburgh fans. Hodges said he joked in the huddle on the first drive that he might have to motion for the crowd to quiet down.
The Chargers’ game staff did troll the Steelers fans during the fourth quarter when it started playing Styx’s “Renegade” only to go into a Rickroll with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
“That was amazing until they made it a joke. It was cool,” Bush said.
STAT OF NOTE
Pittsburgh came into the game converting only 28.3% of its third downs (15 of 53), but was 8 of 13 on Sunday night.
“We were on schedule. More than anything, we were in manageable third downs,” Tomlin said. “We’ve been working hard to be in manageable third downs and haven’t necessarily done what we did tonight.”
Bush has been involved in six of the 14 turnovers the Steelers have forced. He has had an interception two straight weeks and leads the NFL with four fumble recoveries. He is the first Steelers’ linebacker to return a fumble for a touchdown since L.J. Fort last season against Atlanta.
STILL IN NEUTRAL
Los Angeles’ running game struggled again as Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler were held to 13 carries for 32 yards.
“The run game is tough right now. Austin and I can’t get things rolling,” said Gordon, who is averaging 2.5 yards per carry in the two games since he ended his holdout. “How it’s looking right now, the pass is going to have to open up the run.”
Henry, who missed the past four games due to a knee injury, set career highs in receptions (eight) and yards (100).
“Going into the game I wasn’t planning on playing probably 50-60 snaps,” Henry said. “I was feeling really good, so it’s just kind of how it went.”
Steelers: LB Stephon Tuitt (pectoral), LB T.J. Watt (oblique) and CB Joe Haden (groin) were also injured during the game and did not return.
Steelers have their bye week before hosting Miami in a Monday night game on Oct. 28.
Chargers travel to Tennessee next Sunday to start a stretch of three of their next four on the road.