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The Steelers Just Lifted the Chargers’ Kicking Curse

It took three straight offside penalties and two untimed downs at the end of the game, but Pittsburgh gifted us with the rarest of all sights: a Chargers game-winning field goal

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Sisyphus was eternally cursed to roll his rock up a hill only for it to fall to the bottom, Tantalus was damned to eternal thirst without being able to drink, and Chargers kickers are doomed to miss game-winning kicks until the heat death of the universe. The end of Sunday night’s game against the Steelers felt no different from the games that had come before it. And there had been a lot of games like this before.

If time is a flat circle, then Los Angeles’s curse may have been lifted on Sunday night when Pittsburgh broke time itself, committing three consecutive offside penalties in its 33-30 loss to Los Angeles that involved two different untimed downs to end the game.

After Nick Novak, Younghoe Koo, Roberto Aguayo, and Caleb Sturgis were chewed up and spit out by the Chargers curse, the deed fell to Mike Badgley, a 23-year-old Miami graduate by way of Summit, New Jersey. As Badgley lined up for a 39-yard field goal in a 30-30 contest with three seconds left, Cris Collinsworth showered enough overly gratuitous praise on him (especially about how much his teammates believe in Badgley, and how different he is, and how he’s totally not at all like the past seven kickers the Chargers have cut) that Badgley missing the kick felt inevitable. And miss the kick he did, because of course the Chargers kicker missed. Our pasts are our futures; destiny is a cruel mistress we can never truly escape; yadda yadda yadda—WAIT! THERE IS A FLAG ON THE FIELD!!!

Cornerback Joe Haden was called for being offside, but he was just one of a handful Steelers that went offside while trying to overload the right side of L.A.’s line and block the kick. As a chorus of boos rained down on Heinz Field, the Chargers received an untimed down 5 yards closer to the goalpost, from the Steelers’ 16-yard line. Badgley got a second chance—and it was blocked.

Again, time, flat circle, etc., but this time there was another flag on the field. Yes, the Steelers were offside again. Not just one, but the whole lot of them, including cornerback Artie Burns, who valiantly blocked the kick with his face.

Now, the ball would be placed all the way at the Steelers’ 11-yard line, making this just a 29-yard kick, well within most high school kickers’ range. At this point in time, you’d think the Steelers would ratchet back. Nope! Instead, they went offside even earlier and more egregiously than the first two times.

Cornerback Artie Burns was so quick to the ball, he actually got there too soon, and the ball went right through the uprights. The Chargers declined the penalty and won the game. The Steelers created the strangest ending to any game this season.

There are three things going on here: First, this strategy was possibly an in-game adjustment based on how the referees were calling the game. Late in the first quarter, Philip Rivers hit Travis Benjamin on a 46-yard touchdown pass, but Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi looked to be clearly guilty of a false start.

The refs missed it, and the Steelers went apoplectic. As the game continued, Collinsworth noted that the Steelers were often getting a big jump on Rivers’s snap counts, possibly because the refs were gun-shy about calling the Steelers for being offside after missing such an obvious call against the Chargers. Perhaps Pittsburgh felt that jumping the count carried a higher-than-usual chance they would get away with the penalty. (This failed, obviously.)

There’s a second, more important takeaway: This is how you play Madden. When the kick is close enough to be a gimme, you try to time the count and get a perfect jump, and if you’re offside, who cares? They’re going to make the kick anyway. There’s a chicken-or-egg argument about whether Badgley missed the first attempt because of the Steelers’ rush that was called for being offside. Still, the rest of the NFL is more and more like Madden—penalties should be too.

Thirdly, and most importantly: If anything is going to erase the Chargers’ kicking curse, this is it. Perhaps like Atlas attempting to trick Hercules to take the burden of the sky upon his shoulders, Mike Badgley has shifted the burden of missed kicks from the Chargers onto Steelers kicker Chris Boswell (he missed an extra point earlier in the game). Hubris is the ultimate sin before the gods, and now the weight of the world is on the Steelers’ shoulders. As for the souls of the Chargers kickers who were cursed—they are free now.