But after going 3-5 the first half -- improving to 4-5 with a close win over the 1-8 Chiefs last Sunday -- the Chargers now need this game.
In a big way.
If the Chargers were to fall after the Broncos defeat the Falcons earlier in the day, the Chargers could be two games off the AFC West pace with just six to play.
Sorry, but that's fate when stumbling so badly over press clippings and dreams of reaching the Super Bowl.
HC Norv Turner
"It's a wild place to play," coach Norv Turner said. "They are great fans; the field is a little different ... weather.
"There's a lot of things you have to handle going on the road."
The Chargers know all about that in returning from a two-game, 11,000-mile jaunt last month.
But it isn't the journey that worries Turner. It's what is waiting at the destination.
"A lot of time people make more out of that," he said. "Who you are playing is the No. 1 thing -- what we have to handle is the Steelers.
"They are an outstanding football team."
That was once said about the Chargers. And the sands of time are close to running out on the 2008 season -- especially if the Chargers win.
Not only would it get them to .500 but also it would deliver a jolt of confidence that comes with knocking off the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
The Chargers can do it. Will the Chargers do it? Before the season, this was supposed to be a game they could afford to lose.
But now, that's no longer the case.
SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 19-6, but the Chargers have beaten the Steelers when it mattered most. Twice when playing each other in the postseason the Chargers prevailed. The most critical win came in the 1994 AFC Championship Game, when the Chargers were nine-point underdogs and won to advance to their lone Super Bowl.
--TE Antonio Gates said this is the first of three critical games for the Chargers -- Steelers, Colts, and Falcons. "We just want to get on a roll and it is going to start in Pittsburgh," Gates said. "We got a lot of guys that can make a lot of plays and they do a lot of gambling."
QB Philip Rivers
--OLB Shaun Phillips welcomes the trip to Pittsburgh. "We look forward to the challenge if football is easy we shouldn't be playing it. We just want to go out there and do what we do. We go into every game with the mindset of stopping the run first." Phillips, though, said bringing down Ben Roethlisberger is also on the to-do list. But it will take a solid hit. "You have to be the one to deliver the blow," he said. "If you go out with that mind-set, you will make the tackle."
--Since 2004, the Chargers and Steelers have combined for a 90-38 record.
--Signed RB Michael Bennett (5-9, 207), an eighth-year pro, has rushed for 3,627 yards and has a career average of 4.4 yards per carry. He was recently released from Tampa Bay. He also has 151 receptions in 94 NFL games.
--The Chargers have played 12 times in Pittsburgh and lost all 12 -- in the regular season. They have swept the two playoff games there.
--The Chargers are 1-4 on the road and 0-3 when playing in the Eastern Time Zone.
--In their last three games, the Chargers have one sack and no interceptions.
--In six of the last seven weeks, the Chargers have owned the worst pass defense ranking in the league.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Super Bowl rings won by quarterbacks drafted in the 2004 first round. Philip Rivers still seeks his; Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and the Giants' Eli Manning have theirs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They had turnovers that kept them from winning the game against Indianapolis. We'll have to go play our best." -- Coach Norv Turner, on the challenge awaiting the Chargers in facing Pittsburgh after a loss, their second straight at home.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
RB Michael Bennett
The Chargers are reluctant to use Darren Sproles in that manner, hoping to preserve him for returns and swing passes in the flat. And neither Mike Tolbert nor Jacob Hester, another rookie, have won over the coaches with their running skills.
It'll be interesting to see if Bennett is up this week after being with the club such a short period of time. If he is, that really shows the Chargers' hand that they aren't happy with either of Tomlinson's backups.
--CB Cletis Gordon is expected to miss at least two weeks with a sprained ankle.
--WR Buster Davis was again limited in practice with a groin injury. It's looking more and more likely that Davis' stay in San Diego will be a short one.
--TE Antonio Gates could be the fastest player at his position to reach 50 touchdown catches, doing it in 87 games. Hall of Fame TE Jerry Smith has the mark, accomplishing it in 100 games.
--WR Vincent Jackson needs but three more receiving yards to surpass his career high of 623. Jackson has three scoring catches in the past four games.
--RB Darren Sproles is one of only two returners to be ranked in the top 10 in punt and kickoff returns. He is averaging 27.2 yards (fifth) on kickoffs and 11.4 (eighth) on punts.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers have talked much about establishing the run and it will become more critical this week. The reason is two-fold: it will engage LaDainian Tomlinson's skills more, while giving the running game a confidence boost, and more importantly, it will keep the pass rush off of Philip Rivers. The Chargers usually don't have any qualms about moving the ball through the air, but they would prefer the bulk of the yardage came on the ground to keep Rivers from being exposed to a baffling and effective pass rush. But that will be difficult against the NFL's No. 2-ranked run defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
OT Jeromey Clary
RT Jeromey Clary will earn his dough Sunday when trying to keep Rivers -- he leads the league with 21 touchdown passes -- upright. But Clary needs to be quick off the ball, and possibly have a blocking tight end on his hip, to slow DE Aaron Smith and OLB LaMarr Woodley. Veteran Mike Goff will also lend a hand to Clary, who makes his first NFL start in the din of Heinz Field. Clary must get off the ball without false starting, or Rivers could spend part of his day on his backside.
The Chargers passing game, with a healthier TE Antonio Gates, vs. a Steelers pass defense featuring All-Pro Troy Polamalu.
Gates' game has taken off the past two contests as he has put his toe and hip injuries behind him. With Rivers expected to face a strong rush -- the Steelers have 34 sacks -- it's imperative Gates is available for the short routes if Rivers has to get rid of the ball quickly. But on some plays that will mean out-smarting Polamalu, who leads the Steelers with three interceptions.
Chargers pass defense, with cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie vs. the Steelers' passing game, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Hines Ward.
Jammer and Cromartie have to face the facts that the pass rush is invisible this year. That's too bad because Roethlisberger is banged up and could be compromised by a stiff rush -- something the Chargers haven't supplied since last year in the playoffs. So Jammer and Cromartie will have to stay with Ward and company that much longer on the downfield routes because it's more likely than not Roethlisberger will have time for his receivers to make double moves as he won't be concerned about taking a sack or being hurried from being under pressure.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Chris Chambers (ankle) was able to practice and should start on Sunday.
--CB Cletis Gordon (knee) will miss at least two weeks.
--S Steve Gregory (neck) didn't practice and could be down this week.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) was able to practice Wednesday. That is an encouraging sign especially with his backup, Gordon, down with a knee injury.
--OLB Marques Harris is still battling a sore hamstring and was limited in practice. His game is built around his speed so that could come into play Sunday.