PITTSBURGH - Due to the manner in which the 2012 NFL season has unfolded for the Steelers, the lowly San Diego Chargers were not going to be an easy opponent.
Steelers veteran defensive end Brett Keisel anticipated as much before Sunday's game at Heinz Field.
"Keisel told us before the game if we don't come out and play hard, they'll beat us,'' Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "And they did.''
The Associated Press
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown looks on after Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer (on ground) recovers a Pittsburgh fumble in the endzone for a touchdown.
The roller-coaster season continued as the 7 1/2-point underdog Chargers walloped the playoff-minded Steelers, 34-24, on an unseasonably warm and dreary day.
The Steelers fell to 7-6 with three regular-season games remaining but stayed in decent position for a wild-card playoff berth thanks to help from other teams. San Diego, which had lost seven of its last eight games, had never won in Pittsburgh during the regular season and was playing with a banged-up offensive line and an embattled coach, improved to 5-8.
"I felt the way I did and said what I said,'' Keisel said in the Steelers' locker room after the loss. "Things worked out the way they did. [The Chargers] came in here and played well. They played tough and made more plays than us.''
Chargers 34, Steelers 24
SD-FG Novak 51, 3:06.
SD-Alexander 39 pass from Rivers (Novak kick), 3:40.
SD-FG Novak 39, :50.
Pit-FG Suisham 49, :00.
SD-Floyd 3 pass from Rivers (Novak kick), 5:28.
SD-Jammer fumble recovery in end zone (Novak kick), 5:16.
Pit-Wallace 40 pass from Roethlisberger (Suisham kick), 2:33.
SD-Alexander 15 pass from Rivers (Novak kick), 9:46.
Pit-Wallace 11 pass from Roethlisberger (Suisham kick), 6:07.
Pit-A.Brown 1 pass from Roethlisberger (Suisham kick), :58.
Total Net Yards294340
Time of Possession36:4623:14
RUSHING-San Diego, Mathews 25-65, Brown 2-17, McClain 3-4, Weddle 1-4, Rivers 3-3, Battle 2-1. Pittsburgh, Dwyer 8-32, Roethlisberger 5-31, Rainey 1-6, Redman 2-0, Wallace 1-0.
PASSING-San Diego, Rivers 21-41-0-200, Alexander 0-1-0-0. Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger 22-42-1-285.
RECEIVING-San Diego, Alexander 7-88, Spurlock 7-64, Gates 3-31, Floyd 3-10, Brown 1-7. Pittsburgh, Wallace 7-112, Miller 5-66, A.Brown 4-35, Dwyer 3-18, Sanders 2-36, Burress 1-18.
MISSED FIELD GOALS-None.
The drought is over
The San Diego Chargers beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday for the first time ever in a regular-season game. The following are the 14 previous games:
Oct. 3, 1971Steelers, 21-17
Skinny: Mike Garrett's 4-yard TD run gives San Diego a 17-14 lead in the third, but Terry Bradshaw's 5-yard TD run wins it.
Oct. 7, 1973Steelers, 38-21
Skinny: Steelers move to 4-0 by building a 38-0 halftime lead with the help of two Ron Shanklin TD catches.
Oct. 31, 1976Steelers, 23-0
Skinny: Steelers hold San Diego to 134 total yards in recording a shutout for what will be the second of three straight weeks. Reggie Harrison runs for 108 yards.
Nov. 6, 1983Steelers, 26-3
Skinny: A 17-0 first quarter helps the Steelers improve to 8-2. Gary Anderson kicks four field goals, and Mel Blount returns a fumble for a score.
Nov. 25, 1984Steelers, 52-24
Skinny: Mark Malone goes 18-of-22 for 253 yards and four touchdowns, and he runs for a score. Steelers stars also include John Stallworth (three touchdowns), Walter Abercrombie (109 yards rushing) and Gary Anderson (team-record 55-yard field goal). The 52 points is the most for the Steelers in one game since 1970.
Nov. 19, 1989Steelers, 20-17
Skinny: Jim McMahon's second TD pass to Anthony Miller gives Chargers a 17-13 lead, but Merril Hoge's 1-yard run wins it for the Steelers. Rod Woodson returns a kickoff 84 yards for a score.
Oct. 7, 1990Steelers, 36-14
Skinny: Bubby Brister throws two touchdown passes to Eric Green. Warren Williams and Barry Foster have TD runs, and Dwight Stone blocks a punt for a safety.
Sept. 1, 1991Steelers, 26-20
Skinny: Gary Anderson's four field goals help Chuck Noll's final season begin on the right foot. Bubby Brister and Neil O'Donnell each throw touchdown passes with O'Donnell's going 89 yards to Dwight Stone.
Oct. 10, 1993Steelers, 16-3
Skinny: Gary Anderson boots three field goals, Barry Foster runs for 110 yards, and Levon Kirkland returns a fumble 16 yards for a score.
Oct. 1, 1995Steelers, 31-16
Skinny: Chargers are penalized for 134 yards, and Stan Humphries throws four interceptions, including two returned for TDs by the Steelers' Willie Williams and Alvoid Mays. Bam Morris scores twice for the Steelers.
Dec. 8, 1996Steelers, 16-3
Skinny: Steelers move to 10-4 behind 154 combined rushing yards from Erric Pegram and Jerome Bettis. Norm Johnson kick three field goals, and Mike Tomczak throws TD pass to Andre Hastings.
Dec. 21, 2003Steelers, 40-24
Skinny: Tommy Maddox, in his next-to-last victory as a Steelers quarterback, throws three TD passes, Jerome Bettis rushes for 115 yards, and Deshea Townsend caps the scoring with a 25-yard interception return.
Nov. 16, 2008Steelers, 11-10
Skinny: Jeff Reed's field goal with 11 seconds remaining wins it for the Steelers and produces the first-ever 11-10 NFL final score. Troy Polamalu's fumble return for a score on the final play is wrongly overturned.
Oct. 4, 2009Steelers, 38-28
Skinny: Rashard Mendenhall rushes for 165 yards - still his career best - and two touchdowns, Mewelde Moore runs in and throws a touchdown, and Ben Roethlisberger throws for 333 yards and two scores.
- Compiled by Buck Frank
Keisel's premonition might have stemmed from the fact that the Steelers lost earlier this season to teams they were supposed to beat, such as the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns.
They were also coming off a huge emotional victory over their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, were celebrating the return of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and were playing in front of their home fans.
"I had a feeling,'' Keisel said. "I don't know, maybe it was from the past, playing teams with mediocre records and losing. I said what I said, and obviously it didn't matter.''
Clark said he noticed early in the game that the Steelers weren't playing with the energy needed to win in the NFL. The Pittsburgh offense punted on its first six possessions and turned the ball over on downs on its seventh.
The Chargers built a 13-0 lead on two Nick Novak field goals and a 39-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Danario Alexander. The touchdown came against Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown, who was on the field because starter Ike Taylor was injured.
"I had a feeling early on that we didn't have a lot of energy behind us, and it showed,'' Clark said. "We didn't execute. We didn't play good football.''
A 49-yard Shaun Suisham field goal before the first half ended gave the Steelers some life heading into the second half, but San Diego stole the momentum back at the beginning of the third quarter. The Chargers put together a 17-play, 78-yard drive by converting five third down-chances, and they went up 20-3 on a Rivers 3-yard touchdown pass to Malcom Floyd.
"That [drive] was ugly,'' Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "That's uncharted waters, right there, especially [at home]. We just kept trying to fight, but you saw third down. We were getting strong the last month, but we gave it up today.''
The Steelers offense also gave up some points on the first offensive play following Floyd's touchdown. Roethlisberger threw a screen pass to receiver Antonio Brown, but the ball deflected off the back of tight end David Paulson, who was being pushed backward by linebacker Jarret Johnson. San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown that was upheld in a review.
"It was a humbling performance by myself and the offense,'' Brown said. "It was a bad performance.''
The Steelers were able to make the score somewhat respectable with three Roethlisberger touchdown passes after the game got out of hand. But Rivers tacked on another touchdown pass to Alexander, who beat Josh Victorian, a cornerback the Steelers signed on Saturday.
San Diego's Ryan Mathews rushed for only 65 yards on 25 carries, and Rivers completed just 21-of-41 passes, but the Chargers didn't turn the ball over and won the time-of-possession and field-position battles.
"They were well prepared,'' Keisel said. "They picked up on our schemes and blitzes. Philip did a good job of not making the crucial mistakes.''
Roethlisberger completed 22-of-42 passes for 285 yards in his first game back after missing three. He was nearly the team's leading rusher with 31 yards - Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey and Isaac Redman combined to rush for just 38 yards on 11 carries.
But the Steelers are still in control of their own destiny beginning next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. when they play at the 7-6 Dallas Cowboys, who helped the Steelers by knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The Steelers finish the season at home against Cincinnati and Cleveland.
"I hope guys know we got to play better,'' Keisel said. "They have to understand regardless if we're on top or fighting and scratching like we are now, we got to get ready when Sunday comes. We got to play better in the final games or we'll be watching.''
The Steelers are currently tied with the Bengals for the AFC sixth spot. They also still have a chance at winning the AFC North Division with the Ravens also losing on Sunday.
But those thoughts didn't appear to be on the Steelers' minds on Sunday.
"We're terrible,'' Clark said. "It doesn't matter [if other teams lose] - that doesn't make us feel good. We're fighting to beat the best of the worst teams, and you don't want that. You can't clap when you see Cincinnati and Baltimore losing when you are playing worse than them. We take no solace in that. We're not excited about that.''