Only in the NFL can you look worthy of being called contenders one week against a good team and lousy the next week against a last-place team, That’s exactly what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Just one week after defeating AFC North Division leader Baltimore on the road, the Steelers looked flat and fell to the San Diego Chargers 34-24.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to action and came out rusty, but finished a respectable 22-of-42 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t enough.
Playing with a lame duck coach in Norv Turner and having never won a regular-season game in Pittsburgh, on paper the Chargers shouldn’t have stood a chance, but they took it right to the Steelers defense all day and came out with a big win.
San Diego scored the game’s first 13 points on a pair of Nick Novak field goals with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Phillip Rivers to Danario Alexander sandwiched in between.
The Steelers had bad field position all first half and managed only two first downs on their first seven possessions. Roethlisberger got going in the two-minute drill, which resulted in a Shaun Suisham field goal to end the first half.
The Chargers all but put the game away on their first possession of the second half. San Diego marched on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that took 9:32 off the clock and ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Malcolm Floyd. That ultimately was the story of the afternoon as the Steelers’ defense couldn’t make a play and had problems getting off the field as San Diego converted 12 times on third down and once on fourth down.
The Chargers defense struck only 12 seconds later as Roethlisberger tried a bubble screen to Antonio Brown. Backup tight end David Paulson was blown off the ball and shoved five yards into the backfield. Roethlisberger’s throw struck Paulson in the back and Quinten Jammer recovered the ball in the end zone as Brown watched, to make it a 27-10 game.
Roethlisberger came right back and hit Mike Wallace with a 40-yard touchdown strike, a throw that only Roethlisberger can make as Chargers defenders were hanging onto his legs and throwing arm.
Alexander caught another touchdown pass to make it 34-10 two plays after Roethlisberger threw his first interception at home all season, but Roethlisberger heated up late in the game.
Big Ben completed 12-of 17 passes on the Steelers final two drives, including touchdown throws to Wallace and Brown to make it a 34-24 game, but it was the Steelers’ defense who had the most problems on the afternoon.
They didn’t allow many big plays, but as it has been the norm all season, they didn’t force a turnover and only sacked Rivers once. In addition, the Chargers held a 36:46-23:14 edge in time of possession.
While there wasn’t much good news to go around, Roethlisberger looked healthy so that is a bonus going forward.
The loss puts the Steelers now two games behind the Indianapolis Colts, who came back to beat the Tennessee Titans, for the No. 5 seed in the AFC. With losses by both the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers keep ahold of the No. 6 seed for now and technically are still alive in the AFC North, although those chances are very slim.
The Steelers travel to Dallas next Sunday for their final non-division game of the season.