CARSON (CBSLA/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 said “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, didn’t look fazed. He completed 15 of 20 for 132 yards and benefited from a running game that helped control the clock. James Conner scored two touchdowns and Benny Snell had 75 yards on 17 carries.
“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.
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.
“That was a big win. We needed that,” Tomlin said. “Some guys stepped up in a big way. We got a lot of quality efforts.”
The Chargers scored the last 17 points of the game. LA (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 Rivers to Hunter Henry.
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. The Chargers forced a three-and-out and got the ball at the 1 after a punt, but Rivers was picked off by Cameron Sutton to preserve the Steelers win to improve to 2-4.
Rivers was 26 of 44 for300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while Henry, who missed the past four games due to a knee injury, had eight receptions for 100 yards.
“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.
Bush forced turnovers on the Chargers second and third drives. The rookie linebacker scooped up a backward pass from Philip Rivers that Melvin Gordon was unable to handle and went 9 yards to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead
Bush 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.
Conner gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter with a 12-yard run around left end on a nice block from left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
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 Chase McLaughlin’s 38-yard field goal. Rivers ended the offense’s seven-quarter drought without a touchdown when he found Hunter Henry in the back of the end zone from 5 yards out with 7:13 remaining.
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.
BACK TO BACK BLANKS
This is only the second time in Rivers’ career the Chargers have failed to score points in the first half in two straight games. The last time it happened was the first two weeks of the 2007 season.
Los Angeles’ best chance to score in the first half came on its final possession. Rivers connected with Mike Williams three times for 48 yards as the Chargers drove to the Steelers 25, but Chase McLaughlin’s 43-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright with 32 seconds remaining.
It is also the first time in 44 years that the Chargers have been blanked in consecutive home games.
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(Oct. 20) to start a stretch of three of their next four on the road. They’ll be in Chicago to play the Bears (Oct. 27) and the Raiders in Oakland (Nov. 7)
The Chargers take on the Green Bay Packers at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson (Nov. 3).
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