Left guard Willie Colon exited the game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter with a left knee injury and his season is likely over. Colon had missed the past two games with a left knee injury before returning Sunday. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not disclose the extent of the injury in his postgame news conference, but his teammates expressed disappointment.
If Colon does not come back, it will be the third consecutive season he does not finish. His triceps was torn in the first game of the season a year ago and was placed on injured reserve. In 2010, he did not play at all after sustaining an Achilles injury in the summer.
"It's terrible for him, man," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "For him to be dealing with that for the last couple of years, and now we don't know how this thing is going to turn out ... I feel terrible for him."
Pouncey moved to left guard when Colon left the game and Doug Legursky came in to play center. Pouncey and Legursky did the same the previous game against the Ravens.
Some of the players heard about it as they walked off the field. Others were informed by reporters in the locker room.
With Cincinnati losing at home to Dallas, the Steelers are in the same position as a week ago. They control their own destiny in the AFC wild-card race.
Despite their 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers can still get to the playoffs by winning their final three games. They even can get there by winning two of their final three games as long as one of them comes Dec. 23 against the Bengals at Heinz Field.
The Steelers and Bengals are 7-6 and tied for second place in the AFC North Division. But the Steelers are a spot ahead of the Bengals for the final spot in the AFC playoff race. The Steelers would own a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bengals if they beat them Dec. 23 because they already beat them in October in Cincinnati.
The news of the Bengals losing to the Cowboys on a last-second field goal did nothing to boost the spirits of the players after the Chargers dismantled them.
"It doesn't make you feel good," safety Ryan Clark said. "It's like we're fighting to be the best of the worst teams. We don't want that. That's how it feels right now. You can't clap when you see Cincinnati or Baltimore losing when you play worse than both of those teams. We don't take any solace in that. We're not excited about that. The thing it does is it gives us an opportunity to get in the playoffs."
Receiver Mike Wallace had a similar outlook.
"We didn't dodge anything," he said. "We can't control what other teams do. We can control what we do, and we're not handling our business."
Wallace was in position to make a big play for the offense early in the game with San Diego leading, 3-0, but a deep pass from Ben Roethlisberger glanced off his fingertips after he got behind cornerback Quentin Jammer near midfield.
At the very least, a reception would have changed field position. If Wallace had caught the pass and kept his feet he would have scored to give the Steelers the lead.
"I have to catch that," he said. "That's all there is to it. Ben gave me a shot and I have to come up with it."
Wallace did not leave his feet in his attempt to catch the pass.
"I was just thinking extend and try to get the ball," he said. "Maybe I should have kept pumping and running through it. I don't know. I have to watch the film. All I know is I didn't make the play."
Wallace later caught two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder, but it was too little too late after falling behind, 27-3, in the third quarter.
Wallace said the offense has to start generating some big plays the way they did in previous seasons.
"We have to make plays," Wallace said. "We're not making any plays on offense. We don't have hardly any explosive offensive plays. That's what gets our defense going. That's what gets everyone hyped. We have to make some explosive plays to get our offense going."
The Chargers were 12 for 22 on third-down conversions, including 5 for 5 on their opening drive of the third quarter that produced a 20-3 lead.
"It was a huge issue," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "We have to get off the field on third down and we have to run our offense on third down. We didn't do a good job of that, especially on defense. We've been doing a great job of that of late. We took a step back and we have to get that corrected."
The Steelers were 5 for 13 on third downs and were 2 for 9 in the first half when they fell behind, 13-3.
Josh Victorian, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster, was inserted into the nickel defense in the second half after Curtis Brown was ineffective in that role.
Brown, who was drafted in the third round out of Texas in 2011, got the call in the nickel package because Ike Taylor was inactive with a hairline fracture in his right leg.
Cortez Allen, who had been the nickel back, was promoted to starting cornerback in Taylor's place.
"It wasn't an injury issue," Tomlin said. "We wanted to give Josh an opportunity. They were attacking Curtis some, particularly on third downs. He wasn't being successful enough."
Victorian was victimized on San Diego's fourth touchdown. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw a 15-yard touchdown with Victorian in single coverage in the fourth quarter. The touchdown made it 34-10.
A week ago, San Diego Chargers tackle Reggie Wells was helping his dad, Reggie Sr., coach the South Park girls basketball team.
On Sunday, he found himself with a game ball for his work at right tackle in the Chargers victory. Not even a well-coached basketball team can turn a transition so quickly.
"Actually, I'm familiar with some of these players," Wells said after the game. "Played them when I was at Arizona and played them in the Super Bowl. We have a lot of their [former] coaches out there, too."
There may be familiarity, but for Wells, who hasn't played a regular-season snap since 2010, it was a case of adjusting on the fly.
Originally drafted by Arizona in 2003, he started every game mostly at guard for the Cardinals for four seasons -- 2006-09 -- then latched on with Philadelphia. But since 2010, he has started just one game, played in 13, and was eventually cut in October by Buffalo.
"This feels great," Wells said. "I knew early [last week] that I was going to start. But it's been five or six years since I've played tackle."
Wells, who played at Clarion, was part of a makeshift Chargers offensive line that totaled 294 yards against the Steelers and allowed just one sack of Rivers.
"We stayed with it for 60 minutes," Wells said. "And we weren't making mistakes. At least not the ones we didn't have to make."
On the other end of the Chargers line was third-year pro Kevin Haslam, who was making his first start of the season, and his first at left tackle.
And like Wells, he was awarded a game ball for his effort.
"I played some last week, so I had some opportunity to play," said Haslam, who played just about the entire game at right tackle a week ago against the Bengals replacing injured Jeromey Clary. "I think our entire offensive line played well. That's a great defense, but everything just clicked.
"I've been doing this for a while, playing both [left and right tackle]. The only thing you have to do is just flip the plays when you go to left tackle."
Haslam signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 with Jacksonville, and played in five games. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and was in the Raiders camp. He was cut at the end of camp, and landed on the Chargers practice squad in October.
"Kevin and Reggie haven't been here a real long time," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "They played well and again, we won the game today and that means a lot to me."
Chargers wide receiver Micheal Spurlock was instrumental on several occasions keeping drives alive.
Spurlock was signed by the Chargers in April and released in early October. He was picked up by Jacksonville, then released in November, when the Chargers resigned him. In all, the Chargers are the fifth NFL team for Spurlock.
"I guess I've got a few offenses in my head," he said. "I just try to kick out of my brain what I don't need."
In the game, Spurlock had seven catches for 64 yards.
"He had a great matchup and he's a good underneath route-runner," Turner said.
• The Steelers lost to the Chargers in Pittsburgh for the first time in the regular season. They had won the previous 14 regular-season games against the Chargers in Pittsburgh.
• Roethlisberger became the 25th quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 29,000 yards (29,151) and run for at least 1,000 yards (1,033) in the regular season.
• Roethlisberger reached 20 touchdown passes, marking the fourth time in his career he has thrown for at least 20 touchdowns in the regular season. It is also the first time he has thrown for at least 20 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Roethlisberger tied Terry Bradshaw for the franchise record of the most seasons with at least 20 touchdown passes. Bradshaw did it in four consecutive seasons from 1978-81.
• Wallace's 40-yard touchdown catch was the 26th career reception of at least 40 yards and the 16th that resulted in a touchdown.
• Wallace had 112 yards receiving Sunday to give him 3,934 career receiving yards. He passed Santonio Holmes (3,835 yards) and Ray Mathews (3,919) for the ninth most in franchise history.
Jerry Micco and Gerry Dulac contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @rayfitt1.