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COOK: Vick was better than Rivers, and that was key to Steelers' victory

RON COOK
YorkDispatch


SAN DIEGO — The advantage at quarterback Monday night seemed like it was decidedly in the San Diego Chargers' favor. They had five-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers playing at friendly Qualcomm Stadium. The Steelers sent out Mike Vick, who was making his second start in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger.

It seemed like a worse matchup than Arrieta vs. Cole.

The Steelers still won.

Wouldn't you know it that Vick outplayed Rivers in a 24-20 win that went down to the final play, a daring call by coach Mike Tomlin to go for it all from the 1-yard line on a run by Le'Veon Bell with five seconds left. From the wildcat formation, no less.

"We've got to play to win," Tomlin said. "I'm not going to overanalyze it."

Vick put the Steelers in position to win. After struggling for three quarters, he was terrific late, bringing the Steelers back from 17-10 and 20-17 deficits on the road. "It's not really about the way you start the game, it's about the way you finish it," Bell said. "He finished the game great

"He's so calm, one of the coolest guys you'll ever meet. We needed that. He's a guy who's been around. He's done everything in this league, been playing for so long. You definitely need a guy like that in the huddle."

Vick's 72-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Markus Wheaton pulled the Steelers into a 17-17 tie. He was even better after the Chargers' Josh Lambo kicked a 54-yard field goal for a 20-17 lead with 2:56 left.

"He showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart," guard David DeCastro said.

Winning drive: On the winning drive, Vick completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on third-and-1. He scrambled for 24 yards to the Chargers 17. He threw a 16-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller to set up Bell's winning touchdown.

"I knew on that last drive it meant so much to Steeler Nation," Vick said. "We couldn't fail.

"I'm just thankful I had the guts to do it. I'm just thankful [offensive coordinator] Todd [Haley] had the confidence in me to call the game down the stretch the way he would call it for Ben. And I'm thankful I have such a great supporting cast."

Vick took much blame for the Steelers' 23-20 home overtime loss Oct. 1 to the Baltimore Ravens. The feeling was much better on this steamy West Coast night.

"Last week, was one of my toughest losses," Vick said. "This one is one of my most remarkable wins. I don't know what's going on. I'm just proud to wear the black and gold. We've just got to keep doing it. Next week, we're at home [against the Arizona Cardinals]. We got to keep doing it for our fans. We have to find a way."

Great team win: This was a great team win for the Steelers, who are 3-2. Vick provided the late heroics, but the defense and Bell were the forces behind the improbable victory. That has to be the Steelers' formula again Sunday against the Cardinals at Heinz Field and in every game until Roethlisberger returns from his left knee injury, perhaps later this month.

The defense was very good after a rough start. It even gave the team a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter when cornerback Antwon Blake intercepted a Rivers pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. It was the third consecutive game in which the Steelers had an interception.

It felt like the game might be over after Lambo's 54-yard kick. There's no way Vick is good enough to bring the Steelers back twice in the fourth quarter on the road, right?

Wrong.

Bell deserves much of the credit: Give Bell much credit for the win, providing nearly all of the offense until the fourth quarter. He ran the ball. He caught the ball. He even took direct snaps in the wildcat formation. On one drive, he touched the ball on seven of eight plays. He is a terrific player.

The Steelers likely would have won a lot more easily if they had Roethlisberger, especially against Rivers and the Chargers. It always has bugged Roethlisberger that Rivers went No. 4 in the 2004 NFL draft and he went No. 11. Roethlisberger has had a better career, leading the Steelers to three Super Bowls, including two wins. Rivers has yet to get the Chargers to a Super Bowl.

It turned out well in the end, though.

Vick was better than Rivers.

"I thought he was awesome," Roethlisberger said. "It's about getting it done. He got it done."

Who saw that coming?