Cook: An embarrassing loss

Steelers humbled in their own house

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They all took blame, which only seemed right considering there was more than enough to go around on this rotten day at Heinz Field.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Mike Wallace were among those who spoke for the offense. "We didn't play well at all," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't play well. I didn't make enough plays to help us win." Linebacker Larry Foote spoke for the defense. "They kept punching us in the stomach and we never responded. I can't remember taking such a sound beating like that in this building." Coach Mike Tomlin spoke for the team. "An unfortunate, poor performance by us and, by that, I mean all of us. We coached poorly today. We played poorly today."

All three were right.

"The way we played," Wallace said, "we deserved to be booed."

The man gets no argument here. The Steelers have had some bad losses this season -- at Oakland, at Tennessee and at Cleveland -- but this34-24 defeat at home against the San Diego Chargers was the worst. The Chargers' only two wins in the previous 10 games were against the Kansas City Chiefs. They made the trip from the West Coast to play a 1 p.m. game. Reports broke last week that their coach, Norv Turner, will be fired after the season.

Yet the Chargers embarrassed the Steelers.

The fans knew what they were seeing. They gave it to the Steelers pretty hard before leaving early in the fourth quarter when the rain came, adding to the misery. There was no postgame traffic jam after this dud.

"You lose like that, it makes you sick," Foote said.

It hardly mattered that AFC North Division teams Baltimore and Cincinnati also lost Sunday. Sure, that was good news because the Steelers still will make the playoffs if they win their final three games. Actually, they could lose Sunday in Dallas and still make it if they beat Cincinnati and Cleveland at home. But the Steelers have a bigger goal than just qualifying for the postseason as the No. 6 seed. "We want to win the Super Bowl," Foote said. "Usually the team that wins it doesn't lose in December. We have to rewrite that script. We have to pick it up."

Added Tomlin of the Ravens and Bengals doing the Steelers a favor by losing, "If we play the way we played today, it does not matter."

The lift the Steelers expected from Roethlisberger's return after missing 3 1/2 games with a shoulder/rib injury never happened. He was ordinary, at best. His numbers weren't bad, but 180 of his passing yards and his three touchdown passes came after the game was decided.

Yes, there were some "We Want Charlie!" chants in the second half. Backup Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a win in Baltimore a week earlier.

It didn't help Roethlisberger that Wallace and wide receiver Antonio Brown dropped long passes in the first half. Wallace, who later caught two touchdown passes, was booed loudly.

It didn't help that the Steelers couldn't run the ball. Five scrambles by Roethlisberger produced 31 yards. Backs Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey had just 38 yards on 11 carries. Redman was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 in the first quarter. Dwyer and Redman were stopped for no gain on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays late in the second quarter.

It didn't help that the Steelers had lousy field position all afternoon. Half of their 14 possessions started at their 11 or worse. Their average starting position was their 19.

It really didn't help that an official's call went against the Steelers in the third quarter. Roethlisberger's quick pass to Brown on the right sideline hit Steelers tight end David Paulson in the back and was ruled a lateral. Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that gave San Diego a 27-3 lead. "I didn't think it was even close to being a lateral," Roethlisberger said. "We run that play every day in practice and never have an issue. But I guess that's why I'm not an official."

In the end, the call didn't matter. The Chargers clearly were the better team on this day. The Steelers defense, which had been playing terrific football, couldn't stop the Chargers. It had just one sack, a cheap one when defensive end Ziggy Hood forced quarterback Philip Rivers out of bounds. It didn't force a turnover again.

The Steelers defense missed cornerback Ike Taylor -- out with a fractured ankle after playing in 135 consecutive games -- more than it missed safety Troy Polamalu earlier in the season. Backup Cortez Allen did OK, but Curtis Brown, who stepped in for Allen at nickel back, was awful and was benched in the second half for Josh Victorian, who was signed off the practice squad Saturday.

"They were attacking Curtis some, particularly on third downs," Tomlin said. "He wasn't being successful enough."

None of the Steelers were. The Chargers converted all five of their third downs on their 17-play, 78-yard, 9:32 touchdown drive to open the second half for a 20-3 lead. Said Foote, "That drive was ridiculous."

The whole game was.

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