By Gary Montgomery
San Diego -With a franchise record crowd of 68,537 on hand the Chargers struggled all night to stay within striking distance of the visiting AFC rival Steelers. Finally, with 4:45 remaining in the game LaDainian Tomlinson vaulted up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown and a 22-21 Charger lead, only their second of the game.
After Pittsburghs previous possession had resulted in a 3-play, 61-yard scoring drive using only 4 minutes 42 seconds it was a relatively safe assumption that the Chargers would need to protect against the field goal by attempting a 2-point conversion to make the Steelers have to score a touchdown to win. Coach Marty Schottenheimer sent in two plays, a pass and a running play. Quarterback Drew Brees chose the running play handing off to Tomlinson over left guard, but the Steelers werent fooled.
Yeah thats what it is. We had just pounded it up there to score so I felt like that was our mentality at the time, to hammer it up there again. It was a 50-50 choice; Give it to the best running back in the league or throw it to the best tight end in the league said Brees.
The missed conversion left the defense with the task of keeping Pittsburgh out of field goal range. Ill tell you, all I can say is that was a classic football game. I think it was one of those where in the fourth quarter you can sense whoever has the football last is going to find a way to win, said Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
Thats when the Steelers loaded up The Bus. Bettis pounded the Charger front line picking up three first downs and exhausting the clock on his way to the Chargers 22-yard line were kicker Jeff Reed booted a 40-yard field for the win. Thats the kind of guy (Bettis) he is, said Cowher, thats what he does. You get him the ball going down field and we can make things happen.
Bettis carried the ball 7 of 10 plays during the final drive. Thats what I do, Thats what Ive done my whole career, thats what I do best. I was excited to get the opportunity and happy that I was fresh when my team needed me, said an elated Bettis. The Steelers used all but 6 seconds of the remaining clock after the Charger missed conversion.
I though that was huge. We actually talked about it even before, when they went out there on the goal line play. I told our guys just to be alert because if they do score a touchdown there, we knew the two points was going to be big. I thought that was very, very big, said Cowher.
The biggest play to me after that was the kick-off return because that allowed us to do what we did, continued Cowher.
Quarterback Ben Rothenberger had to be taken off the field a 1:05 mark after Charger defensive end Luis Castillo rolled up on his left knee. Charlie Batch came in and continued to hand the ball to The Bus who kept driving down the field on his way to field goal position and the win.
I told him (Batch) to get me the ball, just look the ball all the way in and follow me through the hole. Ill do the rest, said Bettis. The Chargers face another test on Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland.
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