After missing the previous three games with rib and shoulder injuries, Ben Roethlisberger's return was less than astute. He threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, but most of that came after the Chargers built a 34-10 lead. Roethlisberger had both turnovers and they were costly: His lateral pass was deflected and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, and his interception in the fourth quarter set up San Diego's final touchdown.
It's probably a safe bet Rashard Mendenhall will return in Dallas after the way the running backs performed. Especially when Roethlisberger almost finished as the leading rusher with 31 yards on five carries. Jonathan Dwyer had 32 yards on eight carries, including a 14-yard run, and had three catches for 18 yards. But all you need to know is that he and Isaac Redman couldn't gain 1 yard on back-to-back attempts on third and fourth down at the Steelers 47 in the second quarter.
There were more dropped passes and flubbed plays than production. Mike Wallace's performance looks good on paper -- 112 yards receiving and two touchdown catches, including a 40-yarder -- but he had another big drop on a deep pass in the second quarter that could have changed the landscape of the game. Antonio Brown had four catches and a touchdown and tight end Heath Miller had five catches, but a lot of that came after the Chargers had a comfortable lead.
After protecting Charlie Batch so well for two games, the line failed to do the same with Roethlisberger. He was sacked only two times, but he was under constant pressure in the first half and forced to scramble a season-high five times for 31 yards. That's one of the reasons the Steelers managed to rush for 69 yards on 17 attempts. On top of that, they probably lost left guard Willie Colon for the rest of the season when he aggravated his left knee injury.
The line did a decent job against the run, holding the Chargers to 29 of their 94 rushing yards in the first half and allowing an average of 2.6 yards per attempt. But, on the 17-play scoring drive to start the third quarter, the Chargers gained 52 yards on nine rushes to help eat 9:32 off the clock. And the big play came when they let the Chargers convert a third-and-13 when Ronnie Brown ran 17 yards to the Steelers 12.
Philip Rivers had been sacked 36 times, second most in the AFC, and was playing behind a patchwork offensive line. But the linebackers generated little pressure, and the only sack came when defensive end Ziggy Hood forced Rivers out of bounds on a scramble. Lawrence Timmons continues to be very active, leading the team with 11 tackles, but it was another game with no takeaways -- the fourth time this season that has happened.
The absence of Ike Taylor was especially evident as the Steelers' streak of seven games without a 200-yard passer ended in somewhat humbling fashion. Rivers completed just one pass longer than 14 yards -- a 39-yard touchdown to Danario Alexander -- but he was able to convert 12 of 22 third-down opportunities by picking on Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen with two simple routes. And he threw three touchdowns without an interception.
The team continues to get little production from the return units, especially in games when the offense struggles. And they got snookered on a fake punt in the third quarter. But there were two highlights: Drew Butler had a 79-yard punt in the fourth quarter, second longest in team history. And Shaun Suisham kicked a 49-yard field goal at the end of the first half to remain perfect between 40-49 yards (10 of 10).
It was an embarrassing performance for a team that should have received a lift from Charlie Batch's comeback performance in the second half in Baltimore. The offensive line couldn't protect Roethlisberger, the defense couldn't stop the Chargers from converting third downs and the Steelers couldn't beat a team that had lost eight of its past 10 games. But this has been a recurring theme with the Steelers, who have now lost four games to teams with a losing record -- Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and San Diego.
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First Published December 10, 2012 5:00 AM