Justin Jackson's breakout game sparks Chargers win

Los Angeles Chargers running back Justin Jackson (32) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Sean Davis (21) on his way to scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Chargers won 33-30.Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson: "When my number was called, I just had to go out there and make plays."

Down by 16 points Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers needed to get their offense going in the second half, but they didn't have injured running back Melvin Gordon (knee).

Didn't matter.

Rookie Justin Jackson, the team's seventh-round draft pick out of Northwestern, came up big, helping forge the team's come-from-behind 33-30 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Justin gave us a little boost there, and the guys were blocking the heck out of it as well," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "And gosh the cutbacks, a couple of those cuts he made, and a few other ones were big. It's not surprising to us but seeing it like we saw it tonight on Sunday Night Football was awesome to see."

Jackson didn't have a single touch in the first half and the team only managed two yards on nine carries in the first two quarters as Austin Ekeler struggled to get going. But Jackson was given a chance in the second half and he sparked the comeback, scampering eight times for 63 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yarder that was the first score of his NFL career. He also had a 19-yard reception that set up the touchdown.

"When my number was called, I just had to go out there and make plays," said Jackson, who accounted for 82 of the team's 231 second-half yards. "It's what we live for, being in that type of environment with the game on the line -- it's what you dream about, right? But you don't make it that big. You just go out there and play."

Jackson wasn't even assured of a roster spot this summer as he battled a hamstring injury for most of training camp. He opened the season on the practice squad and then was signed to the active roster in Week 4. He ended up seeing his first action last week against the Arizona Cardinals, when he rushed seven times for 57 yards when the 45-10 victory was no longer in doubt.

Gordon didn't make the trip cross country to Pittsburgh, staying behind to rehab his knee, but he texted Jackson and Ekeler before the game.

"Melvin's our leader," Jackson said. "He's a leader on the team and in the running back room, so he stayed in it with us, made sure we were up on all our stuff. ... He gave us a text this morning that gave us all confidence. He has full confidence in us, and that gave us confidence to go out there and play."

--RT Joe Barksdale was released by the Chargers, one day after he was a late scratch for the Steelers game due to personal reasons. He suffered a knee issue earlier this season and had been replaced in the starting lineup at right tackle by second-year pro Sam Tevi.

--WR Dylan Cantrell was signed by the Chargers to fill the spot that opened when RT Joe Barksdale was released. Cantrell was a sixth-round draft pick in this year's draft out of Texas Tech and he suffered a minor injury at the start of training camp that sidelined him the entire preseason. He spent the first 13 weeks of the year on the team's practice squad.

--WR Keenan Allen caught 14 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown Sunday. It was the second-most productive game of his career as he fell one catch shy of tying his team-record of 15 catches. It was his 21st 100-yard outing, tying Antonio Gates for ?fth in team history.

--RB Justin Jackson gave the offense a big boost in the second half Sunday, accounting for 82 of the Chargers' 231 second-half yards.

--KR Desmond King returned a punt 73 yards for a score to help the Chargers' comeback Sunday.