The last time the Chargers were here in November, they were on the wrong end of an 11-10 score. Among the reasons the Chargers were held without a touchdown for the game's final 51 minutes was turnovers.
Philip Rivers got stripped of the ball when being sacked in the end zone. Left tackle Marcus McNeill fell on it for a safety.
Rivers also had two interceptions, one coming in the Steelers end zone.
It's obvious getting after Rivers and trying to force him into mistakes is on listed on the Steelers' to-do list.
But Rivers isn't thinking of that. He said the lessons were learned and you just tee it up again.
"You just go play," said Rivers, who had his worst game of the year against the Steelers. "I think both (key) turnovers really from a mentality standpoint were not the issue, just a throw that got away from me and then really a good play in the end zone where maybe I held onto it a little long.
"It's turnovers like that that kill you, that put it more and more ingrained in your mind. There's no quarterback that wants to fumble or throw a pick so it's not that I'm trying harder not to do that, but certainly the fact that we have stayed away from a lot of turnovers lately has certainly helped us go on the run that we have."
The big thing, according to Rivers, is to respect the Steelers' vaunted defense but don't fear it.
"You've still got to be aggressive," said Rivers, who tied the Saints' Drew Brees for the NFL-lead with 34 touchdown passes this year. "You understand as the game goes when to be more aggressive and when not to depending on what type of game it is."
But Rivers expects his defense to match the Steelers' effort.
"There are two good defenses right now," he said. "Our defense finished the season as hot as any 'D' and Pittsburgh ranks right up there at one in every category. That's what you expect in the playoffs. We saw last week what the field position game meant to us with Mike (Scifres) punting and Darren (Sproles) with some returns.
"Certainly we know that's a factor, protecting the football and getting some points on the board. Again it will come down to the fourth quarter like most of them do."
OT Marcus McNeill
"It's definitely important," left tackle Marcus McNeill said. "If we establish a running game I think that will establish our offense a lot. We want to actually take control of the clock. When we have a running game going we can control the clock, keep them off the field and keep them from making big plays. That's what our offense wants to do, help out our defense and keep them off the field. I keep my defense off the field and I stay warm. They stay cold and we all seem to like each other real well."
The Chargers would like nothing more than to keep this crazy ride going.
They are the first team to ever start 4-8 and reach the playoffs. They are one of just eight teams to go 8-8 and reach the playoffs. Of those, San Diego is just the third to reach the second round.
Now the Chargers are looking to be the first of those 8-8 qualifiers to reach the AFC Championship Game.
That's a long way from being four games under and everyone trying to chase coach Norv Turner out of town.
Instead, they are playing in 2009's first month.
"It means a lot to us," McNeill said. "We always plan on playing in January. For a while there, it didn't look like we were going to make it. We've been in playoff mode for about a month. We just want to continue that rolling because it's really helping us play at a high level."
SERIES HISTORY: 29th meeting. Steelers lead the regular-season series, 20-8, and are 12-2 at home. But the Chargers have prevailed twice in the postseason, with both wins coming in Pittsburgh. That includes their most prolific playoff win since joining the NFL when they upset the Steelers in the 1994 AFC Championship Game. The teams met earlier this year at Pittsburgh with the Steelers earning a historic 11-10 victory -- no NFL game had ended in such a fashion.
--RB/KR Darren Sproles' 328-yard game plus his 139 combined-yards performance in the 2007 AFC Championship Game ranks him second all-time in combined yards (467) in a two playoff-game span. He can move into first in the category with 173 combined yards against Pittsburgh.
"He was absolutely exhausted (after Saturday's win)," coach Norv Turner said. "I know if we would have gave him the ball one more time, he would have done anything he could to get into the end zone. He's an unbelievable guy."
Sproles is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
TE Antonio Gates
--QB Philip Rivers said there's no clear answer if having the first weekend off of the playoffs is a good thing; the Steelers had a bye last week when the Chargers were beating Indy in overtime.
"You can go round and round about it," Rivers said. "Two years ago, we had home field and didn't advance and had a bye and got guys healthy. Obviously there's an advantage to it or people wouldn't fight and play so hard to get in the top two seeds. Certainly they'll have a week off, rested and playing at home. I think for us, because of how our season went and being 4-8, it's allowed us to stay in rhythm. Hopefully we can keep it going. We've been playing playoff football for five weeks now. We've handled everything well so far and hopefully we can handle it well again this week."
--The Chargers are continuing a revenge tour of sorts. They lost to the Broncos in Week 2 then beat them in the regular-season finale with a playoff berth at stake. They lost to the Colts in the regular season then eliminated them last week from the playoffs. They lost to the Steelers earlier in the season and now face them on Sunday.
--GM A. J. Smith said the pressure-filled games played down the stretch when the Chargers were trying to catch the Broncos can pay off in the postseason. "I believe that the more you are in these situations, the better you are at dealing with them," he said.
--With the Chargers meeting the Steelers Sunday it marks the first time in the NFL playoffs since Denver (top offense) faced Baltimore (top defense) in the 2000 AFC Wild Card round that a conference's top scoring offense goes against the top scoring defense.
--TE Antonio Gates said the arrest Tuesday morning of WR Vincent Jackson for suspicion of drunk driving won't be a distraction. "It won't really affect us," Gates said. "Obviously it's over with. It's in the past. It's something we have to be aware of. Needless to say, Vince is a very intelligent person. We just move on from that. We are a high-character team. We pride ourselves on character. Unfortunately mistakes do happen regardless of who you are."
--LT Marcus McNeill said it's easy to see why the Steelers are so difficult to run against. "You can see their front," he said. "They have a lot of good people. They have (James) Harrison. (Lamar) Woodley on the outside. They've got experience on the linebacker's corps. They've got (Troy) Polamalu who covers and stops the run. They're all around a good defense. They're good against the run and the pass. I think they're number one in both. We're going to have our hands full on offense this week."
--Turner said the big thing in playoff games is often what goes on before contest. "Playing in them and understanding, to me, it's not about the game as much as the preparation," he said. "You have to prepare to do all of the same things you do in a regular-season game. Sometimes I think younger players forget about that the bigger the game gets, and they start thinking about all the other things that are involved. We've tried to keep a pretty even keel in terms of our preparation. Winning games in the post-season and having won games helps, but I think probably the thing that helps most is the guys that have been here long enough to go through those two tough defeats. I don't know that you ever lose that feeling and I have reminded them a couple times of what feels like to be involved in a game like that and I think that is a great motivator."
BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Number of wins in December and January the Chargers have out of 13 games with Norv Turner as their head coach.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think anybody can know the frustration, to be honest with you. It's tough dealing with it. I really sometimes just want to go home and just stay at home and lock myself up and not even go into public, just cause all my life all I've ever wanted to do is play football. That's all I've ever wanted to do and you know, win a championship. And to feel so helpless, to be at this point where we have a chance to do it and again, I can't do anything about it, I can't play, it's like I'm being punished for something. It's tough to deal with." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson on having a torn tendon in his groin which will likely keep him from playing again this season.
FS Steve Gregory
Safety Steve Gregory continues to see increased playing time, especially on passing downs. He has supplanted Clinton Hart, but Hart could see the field more if the Steelers decide to lean more on the running game. Hart hasn't quite been the same since suffering a neck injury that cost him two games in the second half. Gregory has done well and despite Hart being a defensive captain, he has seen his playing time reduced.
--RB Michael Bennett figures to have his most prominent role as a Charger on Sunday. Bennett came over on waivers in November, but didn't get a carry until last week. With LaDainian Tomlinson's health, Bennett is preparing to contribute.
--WR Legedu Naanee is getting more time and could be a wild card this weekend -- especially on a gadget play. Naanee is a former high-school quarterback and is good on reverses, which are a favorite of coach Norv Turner.
--P Mike Scifres averaged a team-record 40.9 yards this season and is coming off a sensational night in the win over Indy. Scifres had six punts inside the 20 -- that's an NFL record for the highest number and percentage.
--LS David Binn is playing in his 250th career game as a Charger on Sunday, the team's all-time record.
--QB Billy Volek is ready if needed. The Chargers' backup rode to the rescue last season at this juncture when helping the Chargers upset the Colts when Rivers went down with a knee injury. Volek hasn't thrown a pass all season.
--QB Philip Rivers is headed into what figures to be a close game coming off his fifth, fourth-quarter comeback win of the season. He finished as the NFL's second-leading passer in the fourth quarter at 111.7 and led the Chargers to an NFL-best 152 fourth-quarter points.
GAME PLAN: Defensively the Chargers will try to pester QB Ben Roethlisberger to see just how quickly he has been able to rebound from his concussion. That means defensive coordinator Ron Rivera -- he had a great game in keeping the Colts off-balance -- will likely dial up more blitzes or figure out other ways for Roethlisberger to feel the pressure. The Steelers have had trouble running the ball, and Willie Parker's tender shoulder must also be watched. If the Chargers can shine on the early downs, they can get after Roethlisberger. The Chargers need to match an aggressive defense with the Steelers' aggressive defense, and considering the troubles the Steelers' offensive line has had this year, this could be the one area where the Chargers could exploit the Steelers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
CB Antonio Cromartie
Jammer and Cromartie held up well last week when trying to contain Peyton Manning. The only TD pass allowed was when they got snookered on a quick snap for an easy pass to Reggie Wayne. But they will need to have another strong game against Ward, as he is one of the most prolific postseason receivers of all time. Ward needs 104 yards to become only the eighth wide receiver to reach 1,000 playoff receiving yards. He has topped 100 yards in five of 11 playoff games, including 258 yards in his past two. Ward also is two touchdowns shy of becoming the sixth wide receiver to reach 10 or more postseason receiving touchdowns. Ward had a big day against the Chargers in the earlier win, catching a season-high 11 passes, including four on the game-winning, 73-yard drive.
Chargers running game, which will likely be minus LaDainian Tomlinson vs. a Steelers run defense which is ranked No. 2 in the NFL and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
Tomlinson likely won't play much -- if at all -- which means the running load will fall on Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett. Sproles is coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games, but those came against the second-tier rushing defenses of Denver and Indy. Bennett also figures to get five-10 carries as well. Sproles will find the running much tougher against the Steelers, with their active linebackers and S Troy Polamalu. Sproles isn't going to be able to move the pile between the tackles and the surface may be soft to try and reach the edges. This is key because if the Chargers aren't decent on early downs, that will put Philip Rivers into obvious passing downs and the Steelers can unleash their complex blitz packages.
Chargers return game, which features Sproles, vs. Steelers coverage units, which are among the league's best.
With the offense figuring be find the yards hard to come by against the Steelers, one looks to the special teams for hidden yardage. Sproles was sensational last week, but Pittsburgh isn't such an easy target. Sproles is eighth in the NFL on kick returns averaging 26 yards per game. On punt returns, he is averaging 11.3 yards, which is No. 8 in the NFL. But the Steelers' kick-return unit is No. 1, allowing but 19.1 yards per return. On punts, the Steelers are No. 4, allowing just 6.2 yards per. Great matchup here.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson (groin) didn't practice on Wednesday and probably won't test his injury until Friday -- if at all. The chance of him having a significant impact this week is slight.
--TE Antonio Gates (ankle) didn't practice. He could test it one day this week but he likely will save it for game day. He should play on Sunday.
--DT Jamal Williams took the day off, but that is a Wednesday tradition. He'll start this week.
--LB Brandon Siler (foot) didn't work but could try later in the week.
--K Nate Kaeding (groin) had a complete workout.