PITTSBURGH - There were two franchise quarterbacks working at Heinz Field on Sunday, and they turned into two mediocre performances.
Neither Ben Roethlisberger nor San Diego's Phillip Rivers had his best game in the Chargers' 34-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Roethlisberger returned after missing three and a half games with rib and shoulder injuries. He completed 22 of 42 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 87.9.
Rivers hit on 21 of 41 attempts for 200 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 89.5.
"I feel OK," Roethlisberger said. "I have to make more plays and do more to help this team win."
Roethlisberger beefed up some of his stats with the Steelers' late finish. They scored three touchdowns in the second half. He was also hurt by the lack of an effective running game and some dropped passes by receivers.
Asked what went wrong, Roethlisberger said, "A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. A lot of this, and a lot of that. It was frustrating."
Roethlisberger was wearing special protective equipment to protect his injuries. That included a bulky vest that had to affect his ability to throw the ball. Despite being injured and forced from the game against Kansas City on Nov. 12, Roethlisberger didn't seem reluctant to run when he had to.
"I wasn't going to hold back," he said. "We knew they're a good defense and they like to get after the quarterback. I was prepared to do it if I had to, and I wasn't going to have any reservations about doing it."
Roethlisberger ran the ball five times for 31 yards, including a 10-yard gain. He was sacked twice for losses of 14 yards.
"Right now I feel OK," Roethlisberger said. "I'll let you know tomorrow if I'm not feeling good."
The Steelers trailed by 24 points in the second half, but coach Mike Tomlin said he didn't consider pulling Roethlisberger to protect him from the possibility of further injury.
"We're competitors, as is he," Tomlin said. "We're going to allow competitors to compete."
Tomlin's assessment of Roethlisberger's performance: "Physically I thought he was fine. Obviously we'd like to be more productive, but that's a function of all our efforts. I appreciate his, but it wasn't enough today."
Going for two?
Down by the 24 points, the Steelers wound up scoring three touchdowns. Yet they didn't attempt a two-point conversion on any of them.
"Until we stopped them, it was going to be insignificant," Tomlin said. "I was holding the two-point plays for that reason, and that reason only. Now we still have them in our hip pocket.
"Those specialty plays we don't want to put on tape unless we had the opportunity to close the gap. As you can see, we didn't."
Asked about eschewing the two-point attempts, Roethlisberger said, "That is coach's call. Whatever he says, we do."
San Diego coach Norv Turner called for a fake punt in the third quarter with his team on its own 28.
It worked. The direct snap went to back Eric Weddle, and he ran four yards on fourth-and-2. The Chargers didn't score on the drive, but wound up holding the ball for almost nine more minutes.
"I think people know we have that in our arsenal and we have called it probably in a number of games," Turner said. "Sometimes you don't get the look, and you get out of it. We got the look that we felt comfortable we could get the first down."
Said Tomlin, "We had to make a play there, and we didn't. They did, and tip my hat to those guys."
The Steelers lost the battle of field position.
In the first half, they didn't get into San Diego territory until they managed a field goal drive just before the half ended.
The Steelers started five of their 14 drives inside their own 10 and eight inside their own 15.
"[Field position] was a big factor," Tomlin said.
Receiver Mike Wallace said, "It doesn't matter whether we start from the 2 or the 20 or the 40. We have to make plays when we are given the opportunity. We just haven't been doing that."
One of the few first-half drives that started with decent field position, the Steelers got the ball at their own 38. But they failed to make a first down, and turned the ball over on downs when Isaac Redman was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1.
A pivotal call in the game was the lateral that caromed off tight end David Paulson into the end zone, where it was recovered for a touchdown by San Diego's Quentin Jammer.
The call was reviewed on replay and upheld, but the Steelers maintained it was a forward pass and not a lateral.
If it was a pass, it would have been ruled incomplete and the Steelers would have maintained possession.
"I didn't think it was a lateral," Tomlin said. "We run a lot of those plays. They're forward passes. I was surprised that it was ruled a lateral, then surprised that it wasn't overturned. But I've been surprised before."
Like old times
Roethlisberger had his first completion to Plaxico Burress since 2004.
Burress joined the Steelers in time for last week's game, but this was the first time he played with Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Burress caught an 18-yard pass from Roethlisberger amid three defenders in the first quarter. He used his height and leaping ability to pull down the ball.
"It was a good play," Roethlisberger said. "It was nice to get him back in there and hear the crowd cheer for him."
Burress was targeted just one other time in the game. Roethlisberger was asked why Burress wasn't used more.
"Did you ask coach that?" Roethlisberger replied.
The Chargers had won playoff games in Pittsburgh, but were 0-14 in the regular season.
"That was my trial week," quarterback Phillip Rivers said. "We have a close team and a tough team. We have a team that will never quit."
Veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton dismissed the suggestion the Steelers were flat after last week's emotional win at Baltimore.
"That stuff is overrated," he said. "We're trying to get to the playoffs, so that's never going to be an excuse."
Baltimore and Cincinnati both lost, so the Steelers gave up a chance to gain some ground.
On the other hand, their position with Cincinnati didn't worsen, either.
"We're in control, but we can't go out there and play like we did today in the last three games," offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey said. "That can't happen if we want to be where we want to be at the end of the season. I think we did a poor job today. We have to go back to work and try to turn this thing around."
Tomlin's opening statement said a lot before a question was even asked:
"An unfortunate, poor performance by us today. By that, I mean all of us. We coached poorly, we played poorly. It's a shame, given the opportunity that was in front of us, but it is what it is. We don't seek comfort. We accept responsibility for it."
SUBHEAD: Making changes
Newly-signed cornerback Josh Victorian got into the game as a replacement for Curtis Brown.
"They were attacking Curtis some, particularly on third downs," Tomlin said. "He wasn't being successful enough."
Brown was beaten on Rivers' 39-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander in the second quarter. Brown bit on a stutter step move and Alexander streaked past him to make an uncontested catch.
SUBHEAD: Injury report
Left guard Willie Colon left the game in the second quarter when he reinjured his left knee.
Tomlin also listed these injuries: "Ryan Clark fell on his hip again. Emmanuel Sanders, AC [knee] joint again. Troy [Polamalu] missed a little bit of time with his Achilles again, but he was able to go back in."
Tomlin said the Steelers would know more about the injuries today.
SUBHEAD: Stats and streaks
Heath Miller caught five passes and is two receptions from 400 in his career. Only Hines Ward (1,000) and John Stallworth (537) have more with the Steelers.
Shaun Suisham made his only field goal try and has converted his last 14 attempts.
Rookie Drew Butler had a 79-yard punt to the Chargers' 1. It is the second only to Joe Geri's 82-yard punt at Green Bay on Nov. 20, 1949 in team history.