CARSON, Calif. -- The Steelers came away feeling pretty good about their 24-17 victory here Sunday night against the Chargers.
What they didn't feel good about was the status of defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt, who entered the game tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, left the game in the first quarter with a pectoral injury. He did not return.
Tuitt underwent testing upon his return to Pittsburgh on Monday. Though results were not immediately known, it's feared to be a significant tear in his pectoral muscle. Such an injury could keep Tuitt, 26, out for an extended period of time or even end his season.
"He’s a key part of our defense. I’ll go to war with him every day," fellow defensive lineman Cam Heyward told me of Tuitt. "I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m hoping it’s just a little time off and then he comes back to us.”
A little time off would be a significant relief for the Steelers. Tuitt has been a disruptive force in 2019, recording 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss. He and teammate T.J. Watt are tied for third in the league in tackles for a loss.
"He's been balling out," said Heyward, who had a pectoral injury land him on injured reserve midway through the 2016 season. "I was really proud of the way he's been playing. We're going to need him back."
In his absence against the Chargers, both Tyson Alualu and nose tackle Javon Hargrave played significant snaps in Tuitt's place. Alualu had three tackles and batted a pass into the air that was intercepted by linebacker Devin Bush. Hargrave had two tackles.
Tuitt had a quarterback hit in limited playing time and replays showed he might have been injured on that play, reaching for quarterback Philip Rivers.
If that's the case, it would be the second time in his career Tuitt has been severely injured while making a play on a quarterback.
He suffered a biceps injury in the 2017 regular-season opener in Cleveland in a similar fashion. That injury kept him out of three games that season, though he later admitted he was hampered by the issue the remainder of the year, finishing with 25 tackles and three sacks.
The Steelers carry just six defensive linemen on their active roster, including Tuitt, Heyward, Hargrave, Alualu, Daniel McCullers and rookie Isaiah Buggs. Buggs was the team's only healthy inactive player for Sunday's game.
Tuitt's injury was not the only one suffered by the Steelers in the game, though it was the most significant. Corner Joe Haden left in the fourth quarter with a groin injury, while running back James Conner had a quad issue that sidelined him in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers have a bye this week before returning to play in Week 8 at home against the Dolphins.