Readiness in question as another inferior AFC team puts screws to a team that was looking as if it was turning corner for stretch drive
December 10, 2012 8:00 PM
Head coach Mike Tomlin reacts after the Steelers fumble to the Chargers in the end zone for a touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger looks to an official as he questions a play ruled a fumble and recovered by the Chargers for a touchdown in the third quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers fans younger than 17 may want to skip straight to the comics without stopping here. What follows is strictly X-rated, and the home team at Heinz Field did not do well with the O's either.
Neither were they bashful with their language to describe it, just as their fans cut loose with lusty boos several times during the game.
The Steelers did not just lose to San Diego, 34-24, they never led, they never threatened to lead, they never looked like they would threaten and they actually trailed at one point, 34-10.
"They played good, we played like [expletive] and that's what happens," linebacker James Harrison said succinctly before leaving a stunned locker room.
Forget a 2005-like run, the Steelers slipped to 7-6 by losing for the fourth time to a poor AFC team. Miraculously, the Steelers remained in position for the sixth playoff seed because Cincinnati also lost in Dallas, not to mention Baltimore's loss at Washington.
San Diego had lost seven of its past eight, but snapped a four-game losing streak as an 8-point underdog and stands at 5-8. The Chargers have played so poorly that a San Diego Union-Tribune report last week said coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith would be fired at the end of the season.
It didn't stop the Chargers from winning their first regular-season game in Pittsburgh after 14 losses and dominating the Steelers to do so. It left several veteran Steelers publicly questioning their level of readiness, their energy and their ability to focus on a lesser opponent after an upset win in Baltimore seven days earlier.
"You can't overlook anybody," Brett Keisel said. "You can't think just because of someone's record they're not going to play. That's why we lost [Sunday], I don't think guys were ready to play."
Ryan Clark sensed a lack of energy by his team.
"I saw that early in the game. I talked to the offensive line. Maurkice [Pouncey] and Ramon [Foster] constantly provide energy for our team. I went to those guys because we needed it and we just didn't have it [Sunday].
"That game looked like it was closer than it was. They were kicking our butts on the field and it showed on the scoreboard."
Another veteran called out his younger teammates.
"The young guys better learn, especially from this season -- we lost to Oakland and Tennessee," said Larry Foote, who could have added Cleveland to the list. "This is not Little League football where records are going to determine who wins before the game. It doesn't go like that in this league."
It went pretty much bad everywhere for the Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns in his first game in a month, two of them to Mike Wallace and one to Antonio Brown. But he also had a sideways pass bounce off of a teammate and into his own end zone. When the officials ruled it was a lateral and a fumble, the Chargers had an easy touchdown because Quentin Jammer pounced on it.
"We run a lot of those plays, they're forward passes," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. " ... I was surprised at first that it was ruled a lateral and then surprised that it wasn't overturned."
That made it two San Diego touchdowns on two consecutive plays in a 12-second span of the third quarter because Malcolm Floyd had caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers on the previous play.
Those 12 seconds bolted the Chargers to a 27-3 lead and put the game away. The Steelers did little on offense in the first half except drop deep passes, as Wallace and Brown did in Chargers territory. Had they hung on to those, maybe they could have made a game of it.
Fans booed after each drop, and booed some more in those 12 seconds of infamy in the third quarter.
"The way we played, we deserved to get booed," said Wallace, who rebounded to catch seven passes for 112 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 11. But his drop in the second quarter at San Diego's 48 on second down from the 13 was a missed chance that might have gone for a touchdown and put the Steelers ahead 7-3.
"I got to catch those. It was a great throw. I tried to reach out, I just couldn't pull it in. That's a play Mike's got to make, a good throw by Ben."
Roethlisberger deserved better in his comeback game, showing no effects from shoulder and rib injuries. He completed 22 of 42 for 285 yards. He also did not have a running game to help him. Jonathan Dwyer had 32 of the Steelers 69 yards rushing, beating Roethlisberger by 1 yard on his five carries.
After that drop, San Diego covered 48 yards on three plays and Rivers ended it with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander, his first of two touchdown receptions. Rivers completed 21 of 41 for 200 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and just one sack when he ran out of bounds for no gain. That's not bad playing behind an offensive line minus three starters with injuries from a week earlier.
Even at 10-0 things looked bad for the Steelers because of the way they were playing.
"The whole game felt out of hand," Keisel said. "I mean, it didn't really feel like we were in the game at all. That's the tough thing. I feel like we have a good football team, it's tough to go out and perform that way and try to figure out why."
You could toss in the fact that the defense again failed to cause a turnover. Up and down the board, there was little good that happened for a team that once owned "December" football.
"It's crazy," Wallace said. "We talk about so many things, we talk about going out and getting a fast start. We just keep tripping over our own feet. It's like we can't get out of our own way."