Down and dirty: Steelers WR Mike Wallace vs. Chargers S Eric Weddle

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Intercepting passes and returning them for touchdowns is nothing new for the San Diego Chargers.

They set a National Football League record that still stands with nine interception returns for touchdowns in 1961 -- a 14-game season in which they also set league records for takeaways (66) and interceptions (49). Talk about your splash plays.

Well, the Chargers are doing it again, though this time with less significant impact.

In 12 games, they have returned five of their 11 interceptions for touchdowns, second most in team history. Two of the scoring returns are by linebacker Demmorio Williams.

Only the Chicago Bears, who have returned seven interceptions for touchdowns in 2012, have more than the Chargers.

That, though, puts each team in select company: Since 1960, only 14 teams have had more than five interception returns for touchdowns in a season.

"They have some guys that take chances," said wide receiver Mike Wallace. "They're like wild fire."

Such opportunistic larceny has not helped the Chargers. They are 4-8, have not beaten a team other than the Kansas City Chiefs in the past 10 starts and have been stymied by an offense that has produced just one touchdown in three games against AFC North teams.

That is not good for today's matchup against the Steelers, who have allowed the second-fewest points (230) in the AFC.

"It's the No. 1 defense in the league," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. "We're battling right now to score points. We haven't scored very many points and that's not a great combination when you're going against this Pittsburgh defense."

But the Chargers' defense is not without large doses of blame, either. They frittered away a 24-14 third quarter lead in New Orleans by letting the Saints score the final 17 points in a 31-24 victory. A week later, they blew a 24-0 halftime lead in a 35-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on Oct. 15 -- a game in which quarterback Philip Rivers had six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles).

And two weeks ago, they blew a 13-3 lead and lost in overtime by letting the Baltimore Ravens score 10 points in the final 4:19 of regulation. Worse, they let the Ravens convert a fourth-and-29 with 1:59 remaining that led to the field goal that forced overtime.

The leader in the secondary is Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract before last season, making him the highest paid safety in the NFL. He leads the team with three interceptions and is third with 79 tackles.

"He's like a baby Troy back there -- almost," said Wallace, who had five catches for 44 yards last week against the Ravens, including three on the winning field-goal drive. "There's only one guy like Troy. But he's flying all around. I love the way Weddle plays the game. He plays the game the right way -- always in the box, not afraid to get down and get dirty and hit people. He'll pick it off -- and he doesn't even wear gloves."

Steelers

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac.


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