And now some good news for the Steelers: Their next two opponents have winning records, and if the Steelers do squeeze into the playoffs, they won't have to worry about playing those pesky teams with losing records.
The Steelers have lost to San Diego, Oakland, Tennessee and Cleveland, all losers with no playoff chances. Yet they've beaten winning teams in the thick of the playoff race: at the New York Giants, at Cincinnati, at Baltimore and Washington at home.
It hasn't mattered who was at quarterback -- Ben Roethlisberger played in losses to the Chargers, Raiders and Titans -- or who was at halfback, or who played on the offensive line. The Steelers have shown they can beat the best teams on their schedule and lose to the worst with all kinds of personnel combinations.
"I don't believe in this league in 'lesser' teams," Larry Foote said. "We could be a lesser team. We could have lost to Philly and the Jets when they played here. We could have lost to Baltimore. We could have been a lesser team. We could have been below .500. I'm not falling for that."
Yet the evidence shows with little doubt that the Steelers do fall to the teams at or near the bottom of their respective divisions. They also could have lost to Kansas City, perhaps the worst team in the league that took them into overtime at Heinz Field.
"I don't really look at that. Any team can beat anybody," Casey Hampton said. "Everybody says that, but it's true. Who we lose to doesn't matter. We beat good teams. It doesn't matter. We can't lose games at home, period. That's embarrassing and we can't do that."
It's possible the Steelers played such an emotional game in Baltimore the previous week that it was natural to let down against a 4-8 team at home.
"That stuff is overrated," Hampton said. "We're trying to get to the playoffs, so that's never going to be an excuse, us being flat after playing a supposed rival."
The Steelers have lost their past two at Heinz Field and three of their previous four overall. Yet if they win two games at home against Cincinnati and Cleveland, they probably could to lose at Dallas Sunday and still make the playoffs at 9-7. Once in, they would no longer face their chief tormentors, those bottom-feeders in the conference.
"All we can do is try to come in and win these last games. We're in the last stretch," Brett Keisel said. "Good teams have to find a way to win these type of games."
The Steelers can look back today at some of those losses to teams with poor records, including Sunday to the Chargers, who were 8-point underdogs, and wonder whether they have what it takes to not only make the playoffs but make it worth their while to do so.
Keisel seemed the most disturbed by what happened Sunday, claiming the Steelers were not ready to play. He also seemed perplexed as to what can be done about it.
"I wish I could say, you know," Keisel said. "It's just frustrating. It's frustrating to see us make flashes, to see us have the makings of a good team and not be able to perform the way you know you're capable of."
Why not go for 2?
While it was way down the list among the errors made by the players and coaches Sunday, not going for 2 points after the Steelers scored with 6:17 left was a strange bit of strategy by coach Mike Tomlin. Had they made the conversion, they would have trailed by 16 -- two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions to tie the score. Instead, he ordered a conversion kick to keep his team down by 17 points, more than two touchdowns. The Steelers scored another touchdown with 58 seconds to go, but then it was too late to go for 2.
Just as strange was Tomlin's explanation for not going for 2:
"Until we stopped them, it was going to be insignificant. I was holding the 2-point plays for that reason and that reason only. Now, we still have them in our hip pocket. Those specialty plays we didn't want to put on tape unless we had an opportunity to close the gap. As you can see, we didn't."
Injuries force line shift
With Willie Colon possibly out for the rest of the season after re-injuring his knee Sunday, the Steelers have different options.
If they deem rookie David DeCastro's knee strong enough to play, they could start him at right guard and move Ramon Foster to left guard. DeCastro has had no experience at left guard, but played well in the preseason and was slated to start at right guard before his knee injury put him on the shelf.
On Sunday, the Steelers moved Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to left guard and inserted Doug Legursky at center after Colon left. That is how they started in Baltimore. In the previous game they kept Pouncey at center and started Legursky at left guard in Cleveland.
Not ready for the fake
The Steelers punt receiving team apparently was unprepared for a fake punt San Diego has run before.
From their 28 in the third quarter, the Chargers needed 2 yards on fourth down, lined up to punt and the snap went directly to the blocking back. Eric Weddle ran 4 yards for the first down.
They did not score on that series, but the Chargers gobbled up more time, made it to their 47, punted and pinned the Steelers on the 6.
"I think people know we have that in our arsenal and we have called it probably in a number of games," San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "Sometimes you don't get the look and you get out of it. We got the look that we felt comfortable we could get the first down."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @EdBouchette. First Published December 11, 2012 5:00 AM