PITTSBURGH - A long time ago, in a stadium that no longer exists, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a home game and looked terrible doing so.
Bill Cowher was the coach then, and his post-game briefing was tense.
The jaw was jutting, and Cowher was steaming. He called it a "debacle," and the seven letters of that word don't do justice to the way Cowher spit it out.
He said it as though each of the three syllables had given him an acute case of indigestion.
Mike Tomlin didn't use that word to sum up Sunday's 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but he could have.
It was that ugly. The Steelers celebrated Ben Roethlisberger's return from a three-game absence by losing to a jet-lagged team that was in the throes of a four-game losing streak and dealing with the leaked news that their coaching staff will be fired a few seconds after the season officially ends.
And, oh yeah, the Chargers rarely win in Pittsburgh. They had lost their previous 15 regular season games here.
Don't let the final score fool you, because it wasn't that close. The Steelers got a couple of touchdowns in the last six minutes, but that wound up mattering only to personal stats and bettors of the over-under number.
You could pin some of it on Roethlisberger, who had a passer rating of 87.9. In the first half, he showed either the effects of the three and a half game layoff, or the cumbersome armor he was wearing to protect his injured shoulder and ribs.
He wasn't especially effective, and he didn't look comfortable throwing the ball. There were drops, too, including a maddening bounce off Mike Wallace's fingertips on what could have been a big play at precisely the moment the Steelers needed one.
But it was more than that. The running game didn't work. The defense couldn't stop San Diego on third downs in the first half. The offensive line, already something of an improvisation, took another hit when left guard Willie Colon left the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury. Field position was consistently lousy.
A manageable 13-3 halftime deficit quickly got out of hand as soon as the second half started. The Chargers drove 78 yards in 17 plays, consuming 9:32 to score a touchdown that made it 20-3.
The key play was a third-and-13 conversion that saw Ronnie Brown burst up the middle for 17 yards on one of his two carries in the game.
Given a chance to hold the Chargers to a field goal, the Steelers instead gave up a big chunk of yardage to a backup back to set up a touchdown.
The ensuing possession pretty much sealed the Steelers' doom. Roethlisberger tried to throw a bubble screen right to Antonio Brown. The pass hit tight end David Paulson in the back and deflected into the end zone, where it was recovered by Quentin Jammer for a touchdown that made it 27-3.
It was ruled a lateral, a questionable call which was upheld on replay. That made it a live ball, and Brown missed a chance to fall on it in the end zone. Had he done that, it could have been a safety and two points for the Chargers instead of seven.
On two series, one defensive and one offensive, the Steelers allowed 14 points when they had a chance to hold the Chargers to five.
The Steelers seemed to get angry after that and found some fire. They played better, outscoring the Chargers 21-7 the rest of the way, but it was too late to salvage the game.
So now they're 7-6, one notch above mediocrity, and stumbling toward a wild card playoff spot. The Steelers can still control their own fate, but who knows what they're capable of doing after this display?
The good vibrations that came from last Sunday's upset of the first-place Ravens in Baltimore have been muted by an inexplicable debacle on home turf.