Sunday, December 9, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Chargers 34, Steelers 24
By Jamison Hensley
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field:
What it means: The momentum from last week's win over the Ravens is gone. The return of Ben Roethlisberger inspired nothing. Pittsburgh (7-6) flopped against what had been a crumbling Chargers team. The only thing that went right for the Steelers was the Bengals losing in the final seconds to Dallas. That means Pittsburgh and Cincinnati remain tied for the last playoff spot in the AFC. The Steelers also stay two games back of the AFC North-leading Ravens (9-4), who lost at Washington in overtime. San Diego (5-8) had lost four straight games and had never won a regular-season game in 14 previous trips to Pittsburgh.
Rough return: Roethlisberger hurt the Steelers more than he helped them in his first game back after missing three games with rib and shoulder injuries. He didn't get much support from his receivers or line in the first half, but he made two costly mistakes in the second half. Both occurred deep in his own territory and led to touchdowns. A lateral bounced off tight end David Paulson's back and was recovered by San Diego in the end zone. Then, Roethlisberger was picked off at the Steelers' 17-yard line and the Chargers quickly converted that into a 15-yard touchdown pass by Philip Rivers. That put the Chargers up 34-10. Roethlisberger finished 22-of-42 for 285 yards and three touchdowns, but most of that production came in a meaningless fourth quarter.
Marathon drive: The Steelers are among the best in time of possession this year, but the NFL's top-ranked defense couldn't get the ball away from the Chargers to open the second half. San Diego went on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard pass from Rivers to Malcom Floyd, who beat Keenan Lewis in the end zone.
Wallace bounces back: After getting booed for dropping a deep pass in the first half, Mike Wallace caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 27-10. It was Wallace's first touchdown since Nov. 12, which was also the last time Roethlisberger played. He also added an 11-yard touchdown during garbage time.
Trickery trips up Pittsburgh: It looked like the Steelers were going to force a three-and-out after that Wallace touchdown and keep the momentum. But, on fourth-and-2 from the San Diego 28-yard line, the Chargers made a gutsy call with a fake punt and it paid off. It was a direct snap to Eric Weddle, who turned the corner for a 4-yard gain.
Bad day for Brown: Last Sunday, Cortez Allen was picked on when Ike Taylor left with an ankle injury. This time, Curtis Brown was the one who got burned. After getting beat for some third-down conversions, Brown bit on a double move by Danario Alexander for a 39-yard touchdown. That staked the Chargers to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
Offensive line still hurting: Left guard Willie Colon, who hadn't played the past two games with a knee injury, left in the middle of the second quarter. That forced the Steelers to move Maurkice Pouncey to left guard and put Doug Legursky at center. The line struggled to give Roethlisberger time in the pocket all game.
What's next: The Steelers play at Dallas, their third road game in four weeks.