NFL Nation: Chargers-Steelers 100409
|Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE|
|The San Diego Chargers defense didn't have an answer for Rashard Mendenhall, who established career highs in rushing yards (165) and carries (29).|
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- A week ago, Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall reached the most embarrassing point of his brief NFL career.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noticed a player who wasn’t focused. Mendenhall’s practices were so poor that Tomlin didn’t trust his 2008 first-round pick to take a single snap on offense during Pittsburgh’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Mendenhall instead was relegated to special teams.
The message from Tomlin was clear: Regardless of pedigree, young players have to earn their spot to contribute for the defending Super Bowl champions.
On Sunday night, Mendenhall got the message. He was arguably the best player on the field during Pittsburgh’s 38-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Mendenhall had the type of game that would make Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris proud.
For the first time in his career Mendenhall looked like a Steelers tailback, punishing San Diego defenders to the tune of 165 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns -- all career highs. He did most of his damage between the tackles and had no problem lowering his previously injured shoulder to get the tough yards.
It was the perfect way to rebound from a tough week and, until Sunday, an uninspiring start to the 2009 season.
"I’ve never had doubts about myself," Mendenhall said. "I’ve been confident and calm and waiting on a chance and an opportunity. For me to get knocked down and have to regroup and come back next season, this is all I’ve been working towards."
Tomlin disciplined Mendenhall but said that he wouldn’t hold any grudges against him in this game. A week after not giving Mendenhall any carries, Tomlin felt comfortable enough to use Mendenhall as his workhorse by giving him the football 31 times (29 rushes, two receptions).
"He had a good week of practice," Tomlin said. "I’m not going to take any credit [for] that. I didn’t rush for a yard tonight. He did a nice job."
With Mendenhall igniting the running game, Pittsburgh put together its most complete performance on offense this season.
In addition to Mendenhall, the Steelers also had a 100-yard receiver (Hines Ward) and a 300-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger). After Pittsburgh led San Diego 28-0 early in the third quarter, you got the sense the Steelers could do anything they wanted offensively. Pittsburgh averaged only 15.7 points per game in the first three weeks, but only punted twice against San Diego.
The Steelers were sloppy in the end and allowed the Chargers to get within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But the offense continued to gain yards and put points on the board for the win.
"Together we got a lot of weapons out on the field," Ward said. "I think today we showcased to a lot of teams in the NFL that offensively, if we continue to stay on the grind the way we do, we can have a nice offense."
Added Roethlisberger on the offensive performance: “We always knew that we had it in us.”
But no player proved himself more than Mendenhall. He smashed his career total of 103 rushing yards with one standout performance.
Mendenhall also showed good hands catching the football out of the backfield with two receptions for 26 yards. Another telling play was a crushing block he put on blitzing Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett in the first half.
All the tools were on display.
“I feel like I’m a complete player and complete back as far as blocking and catching and running,” Mendenhall said. “Those are all things that are important at this level. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the team.”
Mendenhall’s timing couldn’t be better.
Pittsburgh desperately needed a win and improved to 2-2, and the team has a pair of winnable games coming up against the Detroit Lions (1-3) and Cleveland Browns (0-4). Starting tailback Willie Parker is ailing with a toe injury and in the final year of his contract. Unless Parker, who turns 29 next month, has a monster run in the final 12 games, he probably will become a free agent in the offseason.
Whether this performance was the beginning of the Rashard Mendenhall era in Pittsburgh remains to be seen. But on this night, the light certainly came on for Mendenhall and provided hope for the future of Pittsburgh’s running game.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Facing the prospect of a 1-3 start, the defending champion Steelers played with an aggression early that wasn’t previously seen this season.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 28-point lead but needed to hold on late to beat the San Diego Chargers 38-28. The win broke a two-game losing streak for the Steelers, who still struggled to hold a lead in the fourth quarter for a third straight week.
Tailback Rashard Mendenhall had a career night replacing injured Steeler Willie Parker (toe). The 2008 first-round pick ignited Pittsburgh’s previously struggling running game with 165 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns. All were career highs.
Despite missing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and not playing their best football, the Steelers find themselves 2-2 through the first month of the season and with two winnable games upcoming against the Detroit Lions (1-3) and Cleveland Browns (0-4).
Pittsburgh trails the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) and Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) by one game in the AFC North. The Ravens and Bengals will play each other for sole possession of first place in the division next week.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers lead the San Diego Chargers 21-0 at intermission of Sunday’s night’s game.
Here are some halftime notes:
- This is as good as I’ve seen Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall run in his year-plus in Pittsburgh. The 2008 first-round pick is seeing the holes really well and putting his shoulder down to gain the tough yards. Mendenhall has 16 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He also put a big block on blitzing Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett in the second quarter that was impressive.
- Pittsburgh’s offense was dominant right off the bat in the first quarter. The Steelers recorded 144 yards on their first two drives which resulted in 14 early points. Pittsburgh also had nine first downs in the game before the Chargers were able to get their first late in the opening period.
- San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie is having a tough game so far. The Steelers are throwing a lot in his direction, and he was called for holding receivers on two separate occasions to extend drives. Cromartie was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL two years ago but struggled mightily in 2008.
- This is Pittsburgh’s biggest lead of the season, halftime or otherwise. The Steelers have blown back-to-back leads the past two weeks against the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals on the road. But Pittsburgh is playing extremely well in front of its home fans, which appears to be making a difference.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend’s games:
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|Which Derek Anderson will show up for the Browns this Sunday?|
Letdown factor: Is Cincinnati facing a trap game against the Browns? The Bengals earned one of their biggest wins in recent memory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week to improve to 2-1. Now the Bengals travel to Cleveland to play one of the worst teams in the league. Division games are always tough, particularly on the road. So don’t be surprised if the Browns put up a fight. Cleveland and Cincinnati have split the season series in each of the past two years.
Looking to Rex: Despite leaving the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) this year to become head coach of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan likely did his old team a favor. Ryan provided an early-season blueprint of how to beat quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (2-1) during a Week 2, 16-9, win by the Jets. Ryan drew up a masterful scheme that pressured and confused Brady, which threw off the timing of New England’s offense. Brady finished with 216 passing yards, one interception and a 53.1 passer rating. There’s a good chance the Ravens will implement some of the wrinkles learned in Week 2 from their former defensive coordinator.
No picks in Pittsburgh: Lack of turnovers is a major reason why the Steelers are on a two-game losing streak. But if you look closer they are particularly struggling to get interceptions. Pittsburgh has 17 pass defenses but only one interception. The only Steeler with a pick this season is injured Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (knee), who hasn’t played since the first half in Week 1. Teams are using a shorter, more accurate passing game against the Steelers to negate their pass rush and avoid committing turnovers.
Rookies in the trenches: Here's an interesting stat from the NFL league office in New York: This year's crop of rookie offensive linemen tied an NFL record for most starts (27) through the first three weeks of the season since the 1970 merger. Ravens tackle Michael Oher and Alex Mack of Cleveland contributed three starts apiece to that total. Look for rookie right tackle Andre Smith of the Bengals to add to that number once he returns from a broken bone in his foot.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:
|Ezra Shaw/Getty Images|
|The Raiders need defensive end Richard Seymour to break out this week against Houston.|
Rivers needs to go deep: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is becoming one of the premier deep-ball passers in the NFL. His deep passes are a thing of beauty. They are text book. Rivers has arrived as an elite player and he does few things wrong. But he has mastered the long ball and used it to his advantage in each game this season. Expect him to fire away Sunday at Pittsburgh. The early-season MVP candidate will try to take advantage of the likelyabsence of Pittsburgh star safety Troy Polamalu and try to shred the Steelers with a deep pass or two.
Time for the Broncos to show they are for real: The Broncos are one of seven unbeaten teams in the NFL and are the early surprise. Not much was expected from Denver in the first year of the Josh McDaniels’ era. But the team has been menacing on defense and timely on offense. Still, there are skeptics. Denver has beat Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland. But the easy ride is over. Denver starts a 10-game stretch in which they play eight sure playoff contenders. The rough road begins Sunday at home against Dallas. If the Broncos can dispatch the Cowboys, they will start to get respect and be considered a true playoff contender. If Denver loses to the visiting Cowboys, they will be cast as a pretender.
Chiefs have to compete in second leg of NFC East tour: Chiefs coach Todd Haley was criticized after last week’s 20-point loss at Philadelphia. Haley started to run the ball more in the second half instead of passing the ball even though the Chiefs were down by more than two touchdowns. The Chiefs have to find a way to stay in the game this week against the visiting Giants. Just like against the Eagles, the Chiefs will be badly overmatched. But this team, which competed well in the first two games under Haley, has to find a way to compete as they play their second of four straight games against NFC East competition.
This is the time for Russell to shine: I spoke to ESPN’s KC Joyner, the Football Scientist, this week. Joyner, a number cruncher supreme, said he believes Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell could have a decent game against Houston. If not, Joyner surmised, Russell really may be on his way to becoming a bust. Joyner thinks Houston has one of the worst defensive backfields in the league based on his computing. Houston’s cornerbacks are allowing big plays at an alarming rate. It’s a perfect opportunity for Russell to break out. If not, Russell (who has a 39.8 passers’ rating this season) may never break out.